Hospice Patients Alliance: Consumer Advocacy

Father Killed by Hospice with Morphine Overdose

by Pat Bridwell and Jane Kennedy
September 13, 2004

This is about a man who loved life, cherished each day as a gift, and whose iron will to live was an inspiration to all who knew and loved him. He was intelligent, a hardworking career man into his 70's, and a veteran of World War II who loved his country. He adored family and friends, and his name is Dewey __________. He is my Dad. He was 81.

In 1991 he had heart bypass and carotid artery surgery and had remained on heart and blood pressure meds since that time. Dad developed hardening of the arteries in the last few years. His blood pressure was kept extremely low. Occasionally, his legs ached due to poor circulation, but Dad kept going despite his declining health. He was never homebound or bedridden.

On July 5th Dad was hospitalized with nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, and weakness. CT scans and a colonoscopy revealed that part of his colon had died due to improper blood flow. He needed surgery but doctors chose not to operate. He was weak, and they feared he would not survive the risk. He was treated with IV fluids, antibiotics, potassium, and was also given a blood transfusion because he had some bleeding from his colon. He was released a week later, and at no time did his condition require pain medication. The only discomfort Dad ever complained about was gas pain after eating or his leg/neck aches from lying in bed.

He regained his appetite and bounced back with unusual energy. On July 28th and August 8th, the diarrhea returned. Both times he was hospitalized for dehydration and given IV fluids. He was given antibiotics again on the August 8th visit. Still, his condition did NOT require pain medication. The doctor who had seen Dad in the E.R. on August 8th told my step mom that Dad's condition was irreversible and on a downhill spiral. He obviously felt Dad had six months or less and recommended that she seek help from Hospice. On August 10th, Dad was ready to come home and had every hope of regaining his strength and recovering. Giving up or giving in to the problem was not an option for him.

I was ignorant, naive, trusting and knew very little about Hospice. I had only heard good things about how they come to the homes of dying cancer patients in agonizing pain to provide comfort and care. I never knew in-house Hospice facilities existed before now.

Tuesday, August 10th: My step mom had Dad transported that afternoon from the hospital to ________ Hospice Facility in _________, Georgia. I went there immediately after work. Dad was sitting up in bed, in very good spirits, and said he was starving. I went to the office and asked for a tray. He ate/drank most everything on the tray and sent me for another buttered roll. Afterward, he had a diet coke and candy bar for dessert. I helped him out of bed, and he walked to the bathroom. There was no light in there, but he managed. I found someone, who later turned out to be the Chaplain, and requested a light bulb be installed. Dad asked what I thought about the place, and I told him the truth. I didn't know yet. He said, "I don't know yet either." Dad was doing real well that evening.

I can only mark the following as the worst three days of my life....the darkest hours... a shocking experience, horrifying discovery.. and a devastating and painful memory.

Wednesday, August 11th: By the time I arrived after work, Dad was lying there and was definitely not himself. He was always happy to see people, greeted them with a smile, and was ready to talk. This time was different...Dad seemed agitated, not interested in conversation and just wanted to rest. This was totally out of character for him, even when he wasn't feeling well. My stepmom said he had had a busy day with a lot of visitors (his brothers and sisters). She informed me that the staff doctor would be meeting with us the next morning. I had a bad feeling... I hugged and kissed Dad, as always, and left so that he could rest. That night I called my aunt. She was elated that Dad was doing so good and knew he was feeling much better. She talked about what a good time they all had during the visit and how Dad was sitting up in bed, laughing, joking, and even singing a song.

Later that evening I called my family doctor on the phone. When I told him Dad was in that facility, he asked why. He paused for a while and then said, "if your Dad's in that place, it's only a matter of days. Those people have the license to kill." I turned sick to my stomach and called my step mom. Dad trusted her judgment completely, and I knew I had to handle the situation with caution and respect. Without repeating the words of my doctor, I told her that I was not happy with Dad being in that place and I believed they were drugging him with morphine. She said he would get better care there than in the hospital. She reminded me that she had told them not to give Dad any narcotics and had planned to bring him home when he gets stronger. All I could do was pray.

Thursday morning, August 12th: That morning I found Dad lying there like a zombie. He had a weird expression on his face and appeared not to know or care that he was in the world. His breathing was labored. I shook him and tried to make him talk, but it was useless. I marched into the nurses' room and told them who I was. This was the conversation:

"My Dad can't even speak to me today, and he was out of it yesterday when I came. What kind of medicine did you give him?
"Roxanol and Ativan," she said.
"For what?" I asked.
She picked up his chart. "Says here that he got out of bed last night, complained with his legs aching, and he was agitated."
"My step mom told you NO narcotics, I said. How much did you give him?"
"20 milligrams; he's on the lower end of the dosage" she replied.
"How often?" I asked.
"As needed," she answered very sharply and defensively.
Her behavior gave new meaning to the word, "agitated." I walked away in anger.

Afterward, we met with the doctor. He spoke very calmly, seemed well rehearsed, and implied that he "thought" Dad had gotten worse since he arrived there on Tuesday. "How do you know?" I asked. He said he could tell that Dad was in pain because of the expression on his face and that he had started rubbing his abdomen. He "suspected" that Dad had developed a blockage in his abdomen or that he "may be developing an infection." Dad has just finished antibiotics in the hospital a few days before. I told him Dad had not mentioned any pain to me, that he had been "out of it" for the last two days, and that I wanted to be able to talk to him. He told me I was being selfish. My skepticism and objection to their agenda was obvious to them. They had the speech and the drill "down-pat." I knew I was living a nightmare, and that Dad's death was certain.

I walked into Dad's room, shook him, and aroused him long enough to ask if he was in pain.
"No, he said, just pressure" and pointed to his abdomen. Dad's bowels had not moved since he arrived there on Tuesday. Despite his weakness, he was restless and moved side-to-side. He kept wanting to sit or pull himself up. Every time we raised his head, they would lower it, indicating he could breathe better lying flat!

Friday morning, August 13th: I called at 5:00 a.m. and asked to speak to Dad's nurse. She was a night nurse that I had never spoken to. She was very kind and said Dad had slept well on his own without medication. He was still weak and groggy but alert enough to speak. She put the phone to his ear. I said, "hey sweetie, it's so good to finally talk to you." I asked if he had a good night, and he said, "I think so; I just feel real tired." He said, "Pat, thank you for loving me so much." I said the same to him in tears and told him I was on my way. My sister and I arrived at 6:00 a.m. We hugged him and exchanged "I Love You's," but he kept drifting off, rather than engaging in conversation. My step mom arrived around 7 a.m.

My sister and I were in and out of Dad's room, as were the Hospice staff. We heard one of them say it would be 12 hours or less. At one point, my step mom tried to talk to him. They scolded her, telling her not to get him agitated. Each time we went back into the room, Dad was more pale and his respirations shorter. Dad was dying, as my sister and I stood over him. One of the nurses came in with morphine. We asked how often they were giving that stuff to my Dad, and she said every 15 minutes. We ran her out of the room. Dad drew his last breath at 4:30...

These were skilled morphine experts with a mission that excluded my Dad's wish to live, that denied him the right to communicate with friends and loved ones, and experience life in the time he had left - a mission that went against what every Hospice is suppose to represent. There was "no dignity" in his death, and it was "not a natural death in its own time."

I never knew about Hospice Patient Alliance until my sister located the web site. We think about the other 17 who were there in that facility. We think about the countless other victims of Hospice and their families all over the country... the stories we've read so similar to this. We are deeply grateful to know there are people like you who care about the rights and violations of vulnerable people, who expose the truth about bad Hospice, and who disclose the government for turning a blind eye to this evil, dark trend to hasten death, and who realize that every day left with a loved one is precious beyond words. Because of you, we know there is hope for others. The education came too late for my sister and I to help Dad, but we are here to help you.
God Bless each of you.

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