Friday, June 24, 2011
Anyone who is a caretaker to an end-stage alcoholic is in a moral dilemma. The dilemma is to let the alcoholic drink himself into destruction causing their own demise or continually rush the alcoholic to the emergency room for a chance to detox and possibly rehab.
If the alcoholic were not end-stage the choice would be clear – any opportunity for a chance of sobriety is a good choice. But it’s different for end-stage. Most likely the end-stage alcoholic will have already been to detox and rehab many times before without attaining long-term sobriety. Usually they make their wishes clear that they do not want to go to the hospital, detox or enter rehab.
In my opinion, at this point, the caretaker must decide if he/she will follow the path requested by the end-stage and just “leave them alone.” Or, will he/she take the path of insisting and manipulating the alcoholic in order to get them into the hospital. It’s a hard choice.
When I moved Riley to the country, I made a decision that I would no longer take any heroic measure to keep him alive. I let go of the idea of being able to control where this illness would lead by insisting on going to the hospital when he really did not want to go. I was done manipulating him into taking care of his health.
Believe me, this was not an easy decision. I wrestled with thoughts that I was taking someone else’s life into my own hands and playing God. I felt like a character in a cartoon with an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other. Both angel and devil were whispering in my ear – telling me what I should do. But, I was confused because they would change roles – the angel would repeat what the devil said and then the next minute the devil would repeat what the angel said. It was difficult to tell them apart. So I stopped listening.
I had a conversation with my minister. I had a conversation with my lawyer. I had a conversation with my doctor. I had a conversation with Riley. And I had a conversation with myself.
I think the turning point was when Riley told me he would rather be dead than sober. It was about the same time that he started vomiting and I offered to take him to the hospital. He refused to go and I did not push him. I told him to tell me if he wanted to go and I would take him, but that going was his decision.
Fortunately, right at this minute, Riley’s health is not as bad as it has been at the edge of the end in past instances. I am thankful for that. But, it doesn’t mean I don’t have to worry about it. Well… worry may not be the right word… I still have to plan and prepare myself mentally to do what feels unnatural to me. That is I have to let someone die without doing everything humanly possible to throw them a lifesaver ring.
I’ve always said that detaching from someone we love goes against the grain of everything we learn about being a loving, caring human. Letting someone go to their death in any manner also goes against that same grain.
That last paragraph threw me back to being at my son’s bedside after signing the papers to terminate his feeding tubes and let him shuffle off this earth into the waiting arms of family who have passed before him. It was unnatural. I felt like I was murdering my own child. What kind of mother does that?? My brain knew it was the right thing to do – but my heart wasn’t listening.
My brain is talking to me again. It is telling me that Riley has used up his quota of heroic measures. It is his choice to die and I must let him do that. He has signed his own papers to terminate his feeding tubes by not wanting to live a sober life. This time my heart is listening and it knows what I must do.
I must do nothing. I must wait until he has become unconscious before I call the paramedics to take him to the hospital. He will most likely never regain consciousness. If he does that’s great, but if he doesn’t – it was his choice and I did not stand in his way.
The trick is to be able to act on that decision. That’s the hard part. The fact that I’m detached from Riley helps. It also helps that although we are married, I don’t really see him as my husband – that person died long ago. My role of caretaker didn’t come about as a means to save him but rather to save my daughter from him. All of that makes it easier for me.
On the other hand… there is the Law of Robotics that constantly plays in my head. (See The Plan is Flawed from October 22, 2010) However, I’m not a robot and my priority is to save the savable. I no longer consider Riley to be savable after so many attempts to save him have failed and it is clearly not what he wants.
at 5:34 AM