Parkland Press

Saturday, July 4, 2020

We cannot judge another’s quality of life

Wednesday, June 17, 2020 by The Press in Opinion

An acquaintance I encountered last week said he and his wife are caring for her frail, elderly mother in their home.

“I don’t know why she keeps hanging on,” he lamented. “She has no quality of life left.”

“Maybe she’s not ready,” I replied.

I could have said much more but I bit my tongue.

How can anyone judge another person’s quality of life? I don’t think we can.

My idea of a worthwhile life may be completely different from someone else’s.

An individual’s perception of his or her quality of life may not be at all the way others view that life.

What brings contentment and satisfaction and happiness to someone is highly subjective.

One person’s idea of a good life may be to spend day after day lounging in bed snacking and watching TV. That wouldn’t work for me, but if an individual is happy and at peace living that way, that’s his choice.

In January when my husband was hospitalized, doctors shocked me with their plan.

My husband was admitted with aspiration pneumonia, which was treated. I had been feeding him soft foods successfully, but because of esophageal bleeding, he had aspirated blood and vomit into his lungs.

After a few days of feeding him in the hospital without incident, I suddenly was notified I no longer could give him any foods or liquids.

According to nursing staff, a speech therapist had tested him early that morning before I arrived at eight, and she decided he was at risk of aspirating while eating or drinking.

When I questioned her procedure, I learned she had fed him crushed ice on a spoon, and he had coughed.

I had never given him mixed textures — small, hard, irregular solids and a liquid — at the same time. If I were fed crushed ice so early in the morning, I’d probably cough, too.

When I protested the orders and said he would starve to death, I was told he had “no quality of life” anyway.

In addition, doctors said a person at the end stage of life has no desire for food or liquids.

Then why did my husband keep begging me for water and ice cream? I guess he wasn’t at the end yet.

The choices presented to me were unacceptable: hospital staff would give him morphine and let him die comfortably; they would allow me to feed him something he wanted, but when he aspirated, (not if), they would give him morphine, not oxygen, and let him die; or he could go into hospice, again with morphine, but no nourishment.

I rejected all three options and announced I was taking him home and was planning to feed him.

Doctors cautioned me he would die shortly. One implied I was out of touch with reality.

“I don’t think you understand. I’m talking hours or a few days, not weeks,” she declared. She predicted he might not survive the ambulance ride home, and, if he did, would die within hours of my feeding him.

“Don’t keep bringing him back to the hospital with aspiration pneumonia,” I was warned.

My husband rejected hospice care, telling the evaluating nurse clearly, “I want treatment. I want to live. I don’t want to be put to sleep. I love life.”

Apparently he had heard the physicians talking about administering morphine to help him pass away peacefully.

Quite obviously, that did not appeal to him. Nor to me.

At home, I fed him the foods and beverages he liked. He lived six more weeks.

In that time he had visitors. He watched videos. He was in comfortable, familiar surroundings.

Had I meekly acquiesced to the doctors’ wishes, my husband would have missed out on the love and laughter and companionship he experienced in those six weeks.

Contrary to the medical professionals’ opinions, he still had some quality of life. He enjoyed seeing favorite people and eating favorite foods.

I would not have wanted him to miss any of those precious moments.

Doctors are not gods. No matter who we are or what credentials we hold, we cannot and should not attempt to judge another human being’s quality of life or decide whether he or she should be allowed to live.