DEAR ABBY: It was about 3 a.m. The call came in as a signal 14. In laymen's terms, it means someone died. A 47-year-old, terminally ill woman had succumbed to stomach cancer. The call was close to the station so we beat the ambulance to the scene.
When we arrived, it seemed like her entire extended family was there. As we were about to enter the bedroom, the daughter asked if we were there to pick up her mother. We asked if they had DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) papers. She said yes, but they were at the hospital. Instead of starting CPR (which is what we are supposed to do when the DNR papers are not present), our paramedic called medical control, the doctor in charge of our service. Fortunately, he agreed that CPR should not begin.
Abby, this scenario has happened more than once, and I am getting a little angry. My anger is toward the system that sometimes puts family and loved ones between a rock and a hard place. The hospital and doctor know that a copy of the DNR papers has to be with the patient at all times or they technically don't exist. Instead of letting their mother die in peace, that family almost experienced the sight of her receiving advanced care life support. For anyone who is not aware, this is far more than giving chest compressions and mouth-to-mouth. She would have had a tube down her throat to aid in breathing, a succession of body-wrenching shocks would have been given, IV lines, drugs, etc.
When my stepfather lost his battle with lung cancer, my mother had worked everything out in advance with the hospice facility. All she had to do was call hospice, and they sent a medical examiner to pick him up. No ambulance. No fire truck. Just a peaceful, dignified way to deal with a very traumatic situation.
Everyone will have to deal with this situation at some time or another. Please, Abby, tell your readers that when this happens to them, or to someone they know, to make sure they know the right things to do. -- CARING FIREFIGHTER IN TEXAS
DEAR FIREFIGHTER: You have taken care of that -- and graphically, I might add. Although some people want every effort made to be resuscitated, many do not. Those who do not should keep in mind your warning that for their wishes to be obeyed, they must be written down, discussed with family members and doctors, and copies must be readily available. Thank you for your urgent reminder.