Thursday, May 14, 2009

Betty Lou "Unplugged" (Theme Thursday...Whoops)

Betty Lou Stratton, Nurse Graduate
August 17,1942 to September 1945

Nee Stratton, Betty Lou, arrived in this world at a location known as Hobson, Montana, in the early summer of 1924. She was the third of seven children. The family soon moved to Lewistown, Montana. Her friends and family were her world. They were all she knew or wanted. Her mother, Blanche, was steadfast in her determination that Betty Lou would not live her life toiling in stoop labor planting crops that would, all to often, wither and produce only tears of loss and frustration. She was determined that Betty Lou would have the opportunity to bear children who might not die for want of money and lack of care. She determined to send her away in the summer of '42.

Despite her protestations, at age 18, her familial homestead was left behind as she traveled to Los Angeles, California to live with her aunt Edna, a private care nurse. Betty Lou, crushed and heart broken, missed her family terribly. Frequent, salty remorse glistened on her cheeks. Her kindly, but stern, aunt enrolled her in nursing school. World War II had just begun and nurses were needed for the cause. Betty proved to have the gift of healing and excelled. Her studies kept her mind occupied and off of her loneliness. That and the movies. She loved going to the movies in Hollywood. She could get lost for hours living a life that was not hers. She graduated from nurses training just as the war ended in 1945. Patriotic, she was disappointed that she would not be sent out to serve the war effort and its wounded soldiers.

Betty Lou Stratton, Cadet Nurse


Since the war was over, she moved to Modesto, California to take her first nursing job at McPheeter's Hospital in December of 1945. It was there that she met her husband, Bill. They married and had two sons. Five years after the birth of her youngest son, the family moved again, further north this time, ending up in upper northern California. She cared for her family, raised her sons, and moved forward in her career. Eventually, she took a position as the head surgical nurse at the local county hospital. She was kindly and stern, like her aunt, with a mind meshed for details.

During her career, she witnessed many tragedies and traumas. She saw families make emotional, heart wrenching decisions to place members on life support all the while knowing, that they would have been better served by quiet, and ideally, painless expunging of their light. She began to understand, with certainty, what she wanted for her self--no heroic life saving measures.

As she aged, her health problems increased. A number of non-life-threatening surgeries ensued. Eventually, she suffered a heart attack. Although serious, she always managed to come back from these occurrences with renewed vigor and zest for life. She made sure her Advance Directive stating her health care wishes and Health Care Proxy forms were completed, signed, and on file with the hospital. Her appointed proxy knew of her profound wish--NO HEROIC LIFE SAVING MEASURES! Being a woman of detail, she left nothing to chance.

In the spring of 2000, she fell down on several occasions and her teeth fell out for no apparent reason. I mean, there had to be a reason, but it wasn't obvious. She was admitted into the hospital where, for the first time in her life, she did not keep her head-nurse-eagle-eye on the doctors, nurses, and staff. She was distracted. Her mind was on, she would say, more important matters. This time, she was aware that her hospitalization was different.

After a procedure on the evening of Easter Sunday, she failed. An intensivist was called to provide emergency interventions. At a critical juncture in her event, he was made aware of her Advance Directive. He told Betty Lou that if she wanted to live, he would have to intervene with life saving heroics. She was lucid enough at the time to tell him that she would agree, if only for a brief while, until it could be determined if her life could be sustained without long term support.

It was here her problem began. After their conversation, she fell into a deep, unreachable coma. She was no longer able to define what she meant by a "brief while." She continued to need tests, treatments, surgeries, and life support. Even with all of these being performed, she failed to thrive. After a few weeks, social services, the finance department and medical staff called the proxy to make a decision regarding Betty Lou's life: continue or desist. The proxy, taking all points under advisement along with her written and verbal commands, made the decision to discontinue life support and allow her to function, or not, of her own accord. It was believed that she would only live for a few hours after support was withdrawn.

The proxy, sad and dejected, left the hospital to make arrangements for her cremation and memorial...according to her very specific and detailed orders. The proxy's wife, at home waiting his return, answered the phone when it rang. It was a nurse from the hospital. She asked for the proxy and upon hearing he wasn't available, hurriedly stated that she had been in the last step of Betty Lou's disconnect. At that point, Betty rallied from her long coma. Startled, the nurse informed Betty Lou that her life support was being discontinued according to her wishes. She then asked her if this was what she wanted. Betty blinked indicating "no". NO, she shook her head. NO! The nurse told the proxy's wife she needed a verbal decision to cease the disconnect process. She asked what she should do. The proxy's wife, being in a situation of having to make a life or death decision, and hoping her husband would agree, yelled for the nurse to stop. She told her to re-initialize Betty Lou's support. Happily, the nurse, quickly and efficiently, set about doing as she was instructed.

WHOOPS! And I mean a BIG OL' W-H-O-O-P-S! Another person's life was almost taken, albeit by her own pen, it was still nearly forfeit. When the proxy arrived home 20 minutes later, his wife told him that the hospital had called. Resignedly, he dropped his head and stated that he knew. He told his wife that he had finally given the instructions to discontinue life support for Betty Lou according to her very specific instructions regarding no heroics in the last stages of her life. He told his wife that he had been out making her final arrangements. He stated that he knew that by the time he got home to pick her up to go up to the hospital for the last time, the hospital would call with notice of Betty Lou's death. His wife, with rushed panic, explained that what he didn't understand was that Betty had risen at the last possible minute to indicated this was not her wish. And that she, the proxy's wife, upon being asked to make the final decision on the end of life, had ordered the nurse to stop the process.

A whiter shade of pale surfaced as the blood drained from his face. Catching his breath, he told his wife he felt the flames of Hell licking on the heels of his near execution of her self-imposed death sentence. What a tricky business...this interpretation of the intricacies of another's life. Especially when the ego's desire for life was stronger than the intellect's ability to account. We rarely know what we truly want until that last instant is at hand.

After that incident, Betty Lou roused, kind of, for a day or two. She couldn't speak but she would nod. It was a mad yes-nod given in response to ALL questions. Do you want to live? Yes. Do you want water? Yes. Would you like a back rub? Yes. Would you like dirt in your IV? Yes. Is dog poop a great dessert? Yes. It was as if her mind was gone but a powerfully, small piece of her own sheer will that could not, nay, would not, let her pass on, was pulling the marionette's string. Finally, even the nodding stopped as she dropped back into her coma, never to return. The disconnect process was finally executed by her doctor on May 21, 2000.

Betty Lou was my mother-in-law. My husband was her proxy. We will never forget the biggest "whoops" of our life. EVER!


Mrsupole said...

I had to do the "disconnect" decision for my dad. So I understand how hard it is. And yes we never forget.

God bless.

Brian Miller said...

wow. powerful story! just when you had me crack a smile with your questions at the end, it went back over the roller coaster hill of emotion.

having the power to make a decision does not seem all it is cracked up to be at times. no fun. hope you have a great day!

Poetikat said...

Wow! I understand this too. We did something similar for my father last November. Thanks for sharing such a deeply emotional story.


Candie Bracci said...

Wow,Ronda...don't know what to say.

Wings said...

Wow is right. Thanks for posting such a personal time in your life. Take care!

Leah said...

I go along with the others in saying thank you for posting a story that many of us can relate to in some way.

Beautifully told.


VE said...

Wow, nicely told. That's a heavy subject!

Ronda Laveen said...

I have been thinking about Betty a lot lately. Next week it will be nine years since she left. She was a beautiful light.

Ronda Laveen said...

Sherry: Glad to see you out and about again. Sorry about you dad.

Brian: You are right, the weight of decision making is not always light.

Kat: We need to share these stories more, I think. It takes some of the darkness away. Your loss is very fresh. Blessings.

Miss Candie: a loss for words? Love ya.

Wings: Thanks.

Leah: Yes, this is one of the purest common bonds that we as humans being, share.

VE: Thanks, VE. Give the gnomes a kiss for me.

Liza said...

What an unbelievable story!!!!! To be put in that situation...I'm stuttering at the keys...a will to live INDEED!!!!

Anonymous said...

I was made medical proxy when Mom went to hospital. As such, I was to be informed of any procedures she may need, lest she couldn't her-self, sign the release forms. Boy was I steamed when I found they had already done a second operation! BIG WHOOPS! Thanks for not calling, doc! 'Tis a good thing she had her faculties about her! SHEESH! But I digress. Sorry. Your story was very powerful and moving. And I'm not sure how I'll go about it when the time comes but you've given me a bit more courage, Ronda :)

Ronda Laveen said...

Liza: She was strong with "The Force."

Subby: Your story makes me wonder if they read the paperwork all the time. Yeah, a phone call would have been nice. Day by day, subby, is how you'll do it. Day by day.

Tom said...

Who knows how we will really feel at the end? Will we be at peace, or not ready? That's a big question you bring up! Happy Thursday, oops.

Baino said...

Wow Ronda .. goes to show that in those final moments even the less lucid can have a change of heart. Beautifully written piece's an awful responsibility to put on another ..I've named my kids! I wonder if they'll have the courage should the need arise.

Marianna said...

What a story Ronda. You know my great-grandmother passed away a few months ago (aged 97!).One would think that a person who's lived this long would be happy for her long and happy life. However, her last words were "save me"...I guess life is sweet so we need to enjoy and appreciate it while we live it.

Thank you on a great TT post! Take care now :)

Anonymous said...

Very gripping tale. Well told, and a deeply poignant take on the theme.

Ronda Laveen said...

Tom: You are right about the big question being: are we at peace or not ready. Somedays I hope for peace, others I say you are taking out while I am kicking and scream...the ol' do not go gently...I guess I'll find out one day. I keep trying to find a way around it but no luck yet. Will keep you posted.

Baino: From what I've read about your kids, they will do right by you whatever your needs.

Marianna: OMG! She lived to 97 and cleary, by her last words, that was not enough. I try to enjoy every minute but sometimes get knocked off track. Just have to get back on though.

otin said...

That was incredible! It gave me goosebumps!

mouse (aka kimy) said...

what a powerful story....very well put. so many learning points..... thank you for taking the time to share this very personal and important story with us....

Sandra Leigh said...

A very touching story, Ronda. If only we didn't have to place these terrible burdens on our children.

Ronda Laveen said...

Otin: Thanks. I felt the same way at your site. What fun.

Mouse: It was certainly a learning experience.

Sandra: Life and death is much better when shared though. Even the hard parts. Thanks.

Ronda Laveen said...

A. Decker: It WAS a poignant moment in time.

The Silver Fox said...

The other TT "(Wh)oops" posts I've read so far were light, and/or humorous. This one kept me riveted throughout. Amazing story, touchingly told. Thanks.

Squirrel said...

incredibly well written post! quite a story, but the storyteller kept me captivated by it.

Ronda Laveen said...

SF and Squirrel: I take that as high praise coming from both of you.

Megan said...

Whew, Ronda. What a story. I can only imagine the proxy's extremes of emotion that day - and yours, as well.

tony said...

Hi Ronda.Thank You .
I am surprised.In the UK it would not be possible for a person to give such prior instructions.
We have a big debate here over "The Right To Die".Because doctors have total control over this, many folk are pushing for a more flexible apporoach.Its difficult, as Betty Lou's experience indicates.You can never forsee exactly how the end will come:also, you cant really make contigencies for last minute change-of-mind.Also (as you show) it puts relatives in a very difficult position.
I Know Its Slightly Off-Topic, but here is a blog for Brits who are considering travel to Switzerland where "assisted-Suicide" is allowed.It raises many questions.
Maybe in Death,as in Life, We have no easy answers.all we can do is manage the Uneasy questions the best we can.............
[n.b. the word verification is "surgen" !!!!!:)]

Ronda Laveen said...

Megan: Yes, it was quite a roller coaster ride. Bottom-top-bottom.

Tony: This is very interesting about the UK. In the US, making your wishes known prior to an emergency has been prevalent for probably the last 20-30 years. Until your comment, I have not considered the ways fo other countries. I learn so much from fellow bloggers. I don't think your link is off-topic at all. It is entirely related. In California, all we can do is create an Advance Directive and appoint a Health Care Proxy. In Oregon, there are some provisions for assisted suicide. I think they are still legal. Right now the parameters come and go with legalities.