Killing My Father

Some days are just more than I can handle. Well, not the whole day. I took dance classes today, and that was as wonderful as always. Everything was even fine when I got back to the house. My father was up, seemed content, so I told him I’d be gone all day next Thursday and Friday, and into the evening on Friday. He was okay with that, but when I asked if he would be okay if I went to the Sierra group walk for a while tonight, he got upset with me for leaving him alone. Then I noticed he was gasping for breath.

I went to check his oxygen concentrator machine, and it didn’t seem to be working — the regulator ball was at zero. My father came and pushed me away from the machine (he still has a lot of strength for a 97-year-old man). He was all in a panic, pushing buttons, turning the machine off and on, twisting the regulator knob, and he refused to go sit down so I could check out the machine. Finally, I steered him away from the machine, told him he was panicking from loss of oxygen, and rather sternly told him to just lie still while I got the problem taken care of.

wind“I don’t want to die,” he kept screaming, and at one point, “you’re killing me.” (Not sure why he said that. Maybe because I wasn’t moving fast enough to suit him. The truth is, he is fine without oxygen for several hours. He simply panicked.)

Meantime, I called hospice, who called the oxygen people. When I told my father the oxygen people were going to call me back, he got mad and said I was supposed to call “hostage.” I explained I did call hospice, and they were the ones who called the oxygen supplier. I finally got him calmed down enough so I could go get the temporary tank from another room and set it up for him. Now we’re waiting for a replacement tank (or maybe just new tubing — I didn’t see any kinks, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any).

Considering his panic, I asked if he was still willing to be left alone during those two days next week. I said I could ask my sister to come back, and he refused to let me ask her, just said to leave the emergency tank set up. It’s not possible to leave the tank set up — such a tank holds only four hours of oxygen, and if it was set up, it would be out of oxygen by the time he needed it. He said he was still able to remember fundamentals such as how to work a machine once it was explained to him, and I didn’t say anything. Under normal circumstances, it could be true, but when he is panicked, thinking he is going to die from lack of oxygen, I have my doubts.

But it’s still his choice . . . for now.

(An hour later: The machine is fine — it turned out the electric socket is dead. My father is fine too. It turned out I did not kill him.)


Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, andDaughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

22 Responses to “Killing My Father”

  1. Pat S. Says:

    “Hostage” is a really interesting Freudian slip. Although it sounds as if you’re the one being held hostage. Can hospice come and sit with him for those two days? It’s called respite care. And you need it. Respite.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      The respite care around here is to spend a few days in another person’s house, and that he simply would not do. I’ll be here all night and can check on him during the day. But yes, I am the one being held hostage, though not so much as I was in the beginning. When I first got here, he set the burglar alarm at 7:00pm and would not give me the code. It didn’t matter so much because I was still paralyzed by grief, but now it does. (Oddly, it was the arrival of my brother that set me free in some ways while it imprisoned me in others. While he was here, my father couldn’t set the alarm otherwise my brother would have unwittingly set it off all the time. Now, of course, I have the code.)

  2. Joy Collins Says:

    I think you know I am a nurse so I am responding from a medical perspective. I would not leave your father alone for two days as you are planning despite what he says. It is obvious to me that he is no longer capable of making rational decisions. If this had happened while you were away what would have been the result? How would you feel if you returned and found him in distress for hours – or worse? Hospice has respite. Can they help out? Maybe send an aide to cover your absence? Or just go ahead and ask your sister to come without asking his permission. I know he seems rational to you at times and you feel he can do more than he does but the bottom line is he is in an advanced age and chronically ill and slowly dying. Plus his blood oxygen levels are impaired and that too is clouding his judgment. Leaving him alone for two days with no one to look after him is courting potential problems. Better to be safe.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      You’re right, Joy. We are fast getting to the point where he no longer has any choices left, so I’m still a bit hesitant about taking all control from him quite yet. And since he made the decisions in a sound state, and since he signed up for hospice himself, he’s the one they are listening to. I’m not going out of town those two days, so I’ll be able to check on him and I’ll be here all night. If there is any problem, no matter how minor, I’ll call my sister and beg for her to come back. He would simply send anyone else away, as he has been doing. What he wants is for me to sit here 24 hours a day in case something goes wrong, and that simply is not going to happen.

      • Joy Collins Says:

        No! You can not sit there 24 hours a day. How horrible that would be. Considering how bullying your father can be I admire your patience with him. I am not sure i could do that. And I understand his need for control as I am sure he feels it slipping away. It probably makes him grab on all the more tightly out of fear of what he probably knows in his heart is coming. As long as you have contingency plans and back-up plans….my concern was as much for you as for him.

        • Pat Bertram Says:

          It’s nice that you’re concerned for me too. I appreciate that – taking care of the aged is a lonely business. I do have some contingencies in place, and I am always considering various options.

  3. rami ungar the writer Says:

    You should be canonized as a saint for all you put up with, Pat. But then you might have to put up with all the people praying to you for help. Too much work!

  4. Paula Kaye Says:

    I think it sounds like you really do NOT want to be there caring for your father. I think it is probably time to make other arrangements for him. He may sound like he is in control but he is NOT. I do not know what I would do in your situation. But it sounds to me as if you have about reached the end of your rope…….

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      What arrangements? A nursing home? He doesn’t need it. Round the clock baby sitters? He would simply send them away. Another family member? No one else would stay.

      We’re doing fine, though I was frustrated last night. It’s hard to deal with someone in a full blown panic attack while at the same time calling repair people to get the problem fixed all the while trying to set up a temporary oxygen tank.

      We’re taking it a day at a time.

      • Paula Kaye Says:

        I do feel your pain. But not all people who live in nursing homes are there because they need it. Some of them are there because they can’t live alone. I’ve spent a good bit of time working in nursing homes. I am so sorry you are going through this. I was just making suggestions because when you get to the end of your rope it is hard to be a good caregiver. Believe me I was there many times with my husband. One day at a time is the best way to take it

  5. Deborah Owen Says:

    My heart goes out to you, Pat. I’m nursing my 96-year old mother and I understand what you’re going through. It rather sounds like our parents should get married. lol Hang in there, girl. Deb

  6. 22pamela Says:

    A day at a time is all you can do. As a nurse, I have seen this many times… A lack of sufficient oxygen is known as hypoxia. It can occur in a number of different setting with the same outcome for the patient…feeling like they are drowning. Total confusion, panic, lack of clarity and rationalization. I took care of my dying father with the same type of situations. You will just need to work harder at taking that “care-giver” and put her in your pocket and just be the daughter. It’s NOT personal when they get that way. Your father will most likely die of respiratory failure that will trigger a cardiac arrest. That said, his oxygen supply is his lifeline. Turned off… He WILL die. And Yes! When he reaches the point where he cannot make clear decisions for himself, you will have to step in. You will “know” when. I pray for you!

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      But he won’t die with the oxygen turned off, at least not for a while. When he was in the hospital a couple of months ago where they monitored his oxygen levels, they kept it turned off most of the time. And he takes the cannula out and forgets to put it back for hours at a time. His panic had to do with the thought of not getting oxygen. When I got him calmed down, he was fine even without the emergency oxygen. But he does need it to breathe easier. And you’re right – he will probably die of respiratory failure, just not in a couple of hours. I expect that one day he will not wake up and probably remain that way for a few days before the end.

      I appreciate your input. It’s good for me to have different perspectives. It’s too easy to get caught up in the dailiness of it all and lose track of what is really going on.

  7. mickeyhoffman Says:

    More responsibility than I’d want. If something went wrong I’d blame myself for really killing a person. I’d choose to relieve myself of the possibility of that happening. Maybe that is selfish but that’s what I would do.

  8. Taking Care of an Aged Parent | Bertram's Blog Says:

    […] emotions every day) but lately he is given to panic attacks when things go wrong, such as when the oxygen tank stopped working. (He does fine without oxygen for hours at a time, so his belief that he was going to die was […]

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