If you want to die, you'll have to wait til the next shift gets in

The old man was looking forward to his daily visit from his daughter and his lady friend. At 2 p.m., the orderlies bathed and catheterized him, then put him in his diaper.

For the first hour or so, he zoomed in and out of consciousness, grateful for the morphine, but frustrated that it basically put him to sleep. His loved ones sat and chatted during these frequent episodes; it's what to be expected in end of days.

Suddenly, he sat up.

"Oh no, I went again," he cried. Something had gone wrong with his catheter, it sprang a leak. At the same time, he soiled himself unable to control his bowels thanks to the tumour that got him into this mess in the first place.

His daughter rang for a nurse. Nobody came. She rang again, and finally went to the nursing station.

"My dad needs to be changed," she said.

The nurse just looked at her.

"He'll have to wait until shift change," she said.

"But that's not for an hour."

"Sorry, he'll get changed when we have somebody on the floor."

And so the old man waited, sitting in his own piss and shit for an hour, embarrassed, tearful. His bodily fluids had become his enemy, stinging the skin on his drooping loins.

This is no way to live, and it's certainly not a way to die, I thought when I heard the story.

Palliative care is supposed to offer a person some personal dignity.

According to the World Health Organization, "palliative care is an approach that improves the quality of life of patients and their families...through relief of pain and suffering."

I suppose, technically, the old man is receiving palliative care in the Ottawa facility in which he was placed when his disease became "terminal". He does get regular morphine so the pain isn't so bad. But there are other kinds of pain, the emotional pain that carves lines on the faces of patients and their families.

Morphine cannot quell the pain of sitting in a dirty diaper for hours just because changing the patient is not convenient for the health care system.

People would be outraged if they saw an infant cooking in a warm, wet, diaper for an hour. Should our dying seniors expect less?

Our airwaves are flooded with commercials lately that tell us Ontario needs more doctors and nurses.

But this family has yet to see a doctor or a nurse change the old man's diaper.

All I know is that no one should be treated so shabbily as this old man, a person who has paid his full set of taxes for 60 years, a man who was a beloved employer of thousands of workers. He deserves respect and attention at his end of days.

I would hate the last words he hears to be "you'll have to wait to die until the next shift gets in."


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