||[Dec. 31st, 2010|08:04 am]
On 17th November 2010 just after midday, my brave, wonderful sister lost her fight with cancer. |
The weeks from diagnosis to that day were hard on us all. Her situation went from being a mildly hopeful chance of being pushed into remission with chemotherapy, to being hopeless.
She had a massive infection immediately after being diagnosed, and this delayed the start of chemotherapy. She came out of hospital on a Thursday with a view to starting chemo on the following Monday. But on the Friday night my oldest Nephew called my parents because she had woken up from a nap and couldn't speak.
She was rushed to hospital where we were all told that she'd had a stroke. The hospital care was appalling, and we had to fight fight fight every day to get even a basic standard of care for her. Soon they told us that the stroke had been catastrophic. It had wiped out a lot of brain.
However, over the course of a few days she began to regain consciousness and was able to have meaningful conversations. What the stroke did take were the memories of the cancer diagnosis. She had no concept of self, of her own person, of the present, or of why she was in hospital... so we did not tell her. The hospital staff didn't like our decision, despite it being unanimous amongst my parents, my ex-brother-in-law, my brother and other sister, and the neices and nephews who were old enough to understand the situation. We were told that they would, at some point, organise a meeting with Dianne to re-explain her diagnosis.
(I've never been allowed to say my sister's name online, so always used the initial "H" for her middle name Helen... her name was Dianne).
I got quite shirty, and told the consultant in charge that he'd find himself and his staff quickly embroiled in a lawsuit if they arranged that meeting. That threat seemed to stop them.
One day, about a week after the stroke, I was at the hospital when the Nurses were doing their medication rounds, and I was surprised that they didn't give Dianne any tablets. After all, my sister was Diabetic, Epileptic, had high blood pressure, and had a thyroid disorder. On an ordinary day she would take 12 pills in the morning and 8 pills in the evening for her conditions. So I asked the nurse where her medications were. The answer was: "Oh we are giving them to her intravenously as she has no swallow reflex". I looked for the cannula, an IV bag, anything... and there was no sign of her having IV medications. I said this to the nurse, and she said that they'd get a bag up at some time.
I realised that for 6 days my darling sister had been neglected. She was nil by mouth, but had not been given any IV fluids as there clearly was a cannula sited. Unhappy with this, Jim and I went to the Charge Nurse and demanded answers. They had none to give, but promised a cannula would be sited before the day was out.
The next day we went to visit and found Dianne was in a deep sleep. A nurse breezed in to the room, told us that Dianne had been in a coma for 24 hours and there was nothing they could do. I noticed there was still no IV up, so I asked this nurse if she knew that Dianne was diabetic and epileptic, and hadn't had any fluids for a week. She ranted back at me about how we should be grateful for the care she is getting, blah blah blah. My father and brother called the woman who is in charge of the entire hospital, and she went straight to the ward.
Within hours Di had been given fluids, medication and was conscious again.
From there we had rounds and rounds of arguments with the staff of the Acute Stroke Unit, until we demanded they move her to another unit. Eventually that happened, and she was moved to a much better unit with her own room. At this point all hope was gone when the doctors revealed a blunder: the diagnosis had always been terminal, there had been some confusion over the results and the cancer had spread to her liver and bowel.
Again we decided not to tell Di. Again we were told that they had to. Again I threatened legal action.
The end came quickly. On Monday 15th I went to visit with my Mom, and Di was asleep. But her breathing was odd. Off. Not right.
I knew it was indicative of "the end". But I also knew that Mom wasn't ready to accept that, so I went along with the pretence that Di was just asleep.
The next morning we were all called to the hospital as she had taken a turn for the worse. We all sat in that room waiting, reminiscing.
Dianne opened her eyes, but I'll never forget the total lack of life or soul in them. It was merely reflex, there was nothing left of my sister.
She lived through Tuesday, but on Wednesday she held on until everyone except me and my Dad had gone to get coffee and food... then she took her last breath. No dramatics, no gasps. She just never breathed again. And that was that.
There's not much else to say. The funeral was beautiful. There were so many people that they filled the chapel, and the service had to be relayed outside.
I still half expect her to call, and I still find myself on the verge of picking up the phone to call her before I realise that we dont have phone service where she is.