26 April 2011
While Alex and I were in Vienna, my mother, Dagmar, had gone home to the US. Still, we had WiFi and Skype at Oma’s house and so we often talked with Dagmar, usually every day. She was very aware that the situation had turned for the worse and had prepared for that even before we got to Vienna in April. Dagmar had not only arranged for Anna to be present from Curavita, but also for Caritas to provide its Mobiles Hospiz service. Over the past weekend a year ago today we had only been able to get the mobile hospice doctor to visit, and she had suggested a significant change in the course of treatment.
Later on April 26 the “house doctor,” Dr. B from down the street, finally came for a visit. I made sure Dagmar was available on Skype as he reviewed Oma’s condition and considered the advice of the hospice doctor. Dr. B was well aware that we had brought Oma home with an understanding that if things took a turn for the worse she wanted to stay at home to die, not return for further interventions at the hospital. Yet now, confronting what looked like the failure of multiple systems for Oma, he advised us to get her to a hospital, quickly. Yes, he acknowledged, he understood that we wanted only palliative care. But he insisted that our approach was immoral. He suggested we take Oma to Switzerland if we wanted to carry on with this course, there assisted suicide was legal.
I was astounded, and very happy to have my mother, Oma’s daughter, on the Skype with me. He had to look her in the eye to say these things. I was so proud of Dagmar for sticking to what I knew Oma wanted. She’d never wanted to live in a nursing home much less die in a hospital. Yet I found it nearly impossible to hold to the palliative course, I wanted to believe she would get better, I wanted my life in Vienna to never end, and Oma was my life in Vienna. I was afraid, and I know Dagmar was as well. But she was also strong, stuck to her guns, and insisted that we wanted only palliative care for Oma.
Dr. B was very frustrated by the resistance. He eventually stormed out without even renewing the pain medication prescriptions we needed or reviewing the drugs the hospice doctor had recommended we drop. But before he left he agreed that if Dr. D concurred with us on the palliative course, he would accept it.
Dr. D was Oma’s friend and a specialist at the private hospital where Oma had been cared for before coming home. He had been the one to call Dagmar in March with word that Oma would not likely last much longer. We had not seen much of him, though, in the past couple weeks, it was almost as though he had already said his goodbyes. We’d also called him over the weekend, but he had not been able to get to the house.
Later on April 26, though, Dr. D did make it by to see Oma. He was shocked by what he found, “this is inhuman,” he exclaimed! He was surprised we had been pushing IV liquids and he quickly approved all the changes the hospice doctor had recommended. He was in the house for barely ten minutes, but he set the course and gave us the bulwark we needed to deal with Dr. B. By the end of the day we all realized that Oma was lying in her deathbed, it was only a matter of time.