On Friday, May 4, my granddaddy was mowing his lawn. On Monday he drove himself to his regular doctor’s appointment and was immediately rushed to a nearby emergency room. He was having trouble breathing. Once admitted to the hospital they transferred him to the VA hospital in Nashville. It was a bad case of pneumonia. My mother and her stepmother, my grandma, came down from Kentucky to be with him in the hospital.
It was Tuesday morning when I first went to visit him. He was clearly sick, but in good spirits and delighted to see me. He wanted out of the hospital like any sane person would. He wanted his hair combed, liked always. He was just as sweet as ever, and confident that he’d be better in “2 or 3 days.” They ran some more tests to find the cause and found out that he was aspirating (choking) on pretty much anything he would eat or drink without coughing which meant that it was all going into his lungs, causing the pneumonia overtime. They wanted him to try a feeding tube to help his lungs heal, but he refused so no food or drinks for granddaddy. Although they couldn’t stop food from getting into his lungs, they could treat the pneumonia that he currently has. So we were hopeful that at least they’d be able to cure this pneumonia and it could weeks, months or even years before he got pneumonia again.
That was Tuesday. On Wednesday my mom and grandma went to Kentucky to pick up some things and I spent the day with granddaddy. Even though he was a little bit delirious and didn’t quite know where he was, physically he was starting to show signs of improvement. His oxygen levels were increasing and the pneumonia treatment seemed to be working. We were looking forward to him moving out of the ICU and into a room.
— We ran out of chairs in the room —
On Wednesday night we went home with hopes that he would be moved into a room on Thursday. But on Thursday morning my mom arrived at the hospital bright and early only to discover that his condition had worsened. He was on a 100% oxygen mask, the worst yet. According to the doctors, his heart rate had spiked to 200+ beats per minute that morning. They gave him medication to help slow his heart rate, but unfortunately that medication added fluid to his lungs, worsening his pneumonia. We called my mom’s brother. “Uncle Rickey, it’s time to come see your dad.”
So the conversations began. Would he want a breathing tube? What about CPR? He’s 88 years old. What do we do? It was clear that he wasn’t really aware enough to be able to make those decisions for himself. He was constantly trying to get out of bed to make coffee or get dressed. He thought he was at home. So my mom, my grandma and now my uncle, were left to make the decision about my granddaddy and what we would do should he take a turn for the worst. No one wanted to make that decision. No one should have to make that decision. (Side note: get a living will!) We knew that we wanted him to be around for much longer, but like that? With a breathing tube? With cracked ribs from CPR? Right now he’s not really in pain. Yes, he’s having trouble breathing. I’m sure his stomach hurts because he hasn’t eaten in days, but really he’s not in pain. I could tell that it was heart wrenching for my mom, grandma and uncle to even talk about the decision that needed to be made. So I listened and came to a conclusion based on everyone’s opinion. I walked down the long hallway from the family waiting room and calmly told the doctor that my granddaddy would be a DNR.
The hardest three letters I ever said in my life – D-N-R. Do not resuscitate. Don’t give him a breathing tube. Don’t shock his heart back into rhythm should it go. Just let him pass. Of course, initially I was completely against that. I knew my granddaddy was scared to die and frankly, I was scared for him to die. I didn’t know if he had heard the Gospel or knew the love of God. So I called Casey and begged him to come and share the gospel with my granddaddy. I desired to be sure my granddaddy had heard the truth and freedom of the Gospel and knew I wanted Casey to have that privilege. He has such a heart for sharing the Gospel. So Casey went in to talk with my granddaddy. He told him about the grace of Jesus and about God’s son dying on the cross for his sins. He assured him that there is nothing he could do to be outside that love once he believed in God’s son. And according to Casey, my granddaddy seemed responsive. This put my heart at ease. He’s heard the Gospel. He’s ready to go peacefully now, whenever that might be. So I uttered the words DNR with a little bit of heartbreak, but a lot of peace. That was Thursday.
On Friday we joined mom at the hospital (she had stayed all night with him) and were surprised – he was looking better. His oxygen levels were improving. His breathing was more relaxed. They were able to take him off the oxygen mask and put him on nasal oxygen. Finally! No more battling over the mask. He could even get up and sit in a chair, which made him very happy. He was still fighting to get out of the hospital, but not as much since he felt more comfortable sitting. Although we knew it was risky, he was allowed to eat solid foods. In fact, he wouldn’t let anyone feed him, but me. It was such a joy to get to serve my granddaddy during this time – to love on him and read him stories of God’s goodness and beauty. We were again hopeful that he would be returning home soon.
That afternoon the doctors ordered a chest x-ray. It showed that the pneumonia had moved into his other lung. It wasn’t getting better. In fact, it was getting worse and it didn’t look good. They started talking about “making him comfortable” and as a loved one, that is hard to hear. That is when the doctor’s say, “if by some miracle of God he kicks this pneumonia then that’s great, but we think he’s dying and we’ll do our best to make him comfortable.” My heart sunk. That was the day when we knew he was going to be leaving us soon. So we spent as much time with him as we could. We were in the hospital all day, all afternoon, all evening and left late probably, 9:30 or so, to head home and let him rest. It wasn’t 30 minutes after we had gotten home that the hospital called and said “he’s taken a turn for the worse, his blood pressure has dropped, we need you to come NOW.”