I like to keep some details of my personal life private. While some of you may chuckle and ask, “Really?”. I’ll simply reply, “Really, really.” I really DO keep some of my “issues” securely locked in that proverbial closet, but this is something I need to rant about: My dad, at the age of 88, died on July 18th 2015 and I believe (although it can’t be proven) that negligence at the VA Hospital caused his death.
My dad went into the VA hospital in White River Junction, Vermont for an overnight stay to get intravenous antibiotics for a recurring case of cellulitis in his legs. (Cellulitis appears as a swollen, red area of skin that feels hot and tender.) He’d been to the local hospital a few times for the very same thing. My sister and I made the (ultimately horrible) decision to take him to the VA this time on the recommendation of the VA doctor, who came to see my dad once a month.
I took him to the emergency room where we waited, and waited, and waited some more, before a doctor finally looked him over and decided that he should stay overnight. 6+ hours from the time we checked in, they admitted him.
I gave him a big hug and told him I loved him and he replied, “I love you too.”. I said, “I’ll pick you up tomorrow.”. “Tomorrow?”, he asked, slightly confused. I said, “Yes, tomorrow. I promise. You only have to stay here overnight.” His last words were: “Good night and God bless.”. He always said to me after we talked on the phone or when I left after a visit.
Expecting to pick him up the next morning, I was absolutely shocked when the VA called me at 7:00 am the next day to tell me, with regret, that my dad “passed away” during the night. At first I thought there’d been a mistake, then I just about shouted, “What do you mean he’s dead?? I was supposed to pick him up today!”.
According to the VA, at some point during the early morning hours, he’d gotten out of bed and went to the bathroom, where he fell and suffered cardiac arrest or, they said, he suffered cardiac arrest and fell. They didn’t know which came first and the autopsy was inconclusive. Unfortunately, my dad had a “DNR” (Do Not Resuscitate.)… and after a brief bit of CPR, they ceased any further life saving actions.
I know that my dad didn’t have many years left, after all, he was 88. He suffered from dementia (but never forgot anything that happened years ago), was unsteady on his feet (he needed a walker), was a cranky old man at times (but I could always make him smile), was a true gentleman to those who knew him, and we loved him, and to have him taken from us in such a way is unconscionable.
I don’t know how long he might have lain there, on that cold bathroom floor, before someone went to check on him. I don’t know if his death was quick and he didn’t feel a thing (as the VA maintains), or if he suffered; confused, alone and in pain. We’ve never gotten a clear answer from the VA and I know we never will.
It’s that horrible thought that burns, like acid, through my mind every day and why I needed to write about it. A catharsis, if you will.
I don’t know how much longer my dad would have lived, but the fact remains – the time he did have left was stolen from us because of the negligence of whom ever was on staff that night. I can only hope that the person(s), who ignored the bed alarm when my father got up, feel(s) guilty and maybe, just maybe, this won’t happen again to another Veteran under their watch.
We are honoring my Dad’s last request to have a Navy burial at sea. Rest in peace, Dad. We love you.