Dad chose MAID over suffering

Personal Stories | April 8, 2022 | Irena Lawrenson

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A photo of Irena and her dad

“I’ve lived my life. Now I want to join my wife.”   

Those were the words my father, Stanislaw Sobolewski, used to explain his desire for MAID. Simple and yet so profound.  

My parents, Stanislaw and Elizabeth Sobolewski, had moved into Revera’s Donway Residence at the end of 2017. The transition from their home of over 50 years to a two-bedroom adjoining suite was difficult at first, but both recognized that once the step was taken, there was no going back.  

Less than two years later, my mother passed away peacefully during her morning nap. Dad had been asleep in the next room oblivious to her passing. At first, he was stoic but at her funeral he fell apart. Heartbroken, he was unable to utter a word – he had lost his wife of 68 years, the mother of his three children, the love of his life. 

We worried about Dad’s mental state so continued to visit him as often as we did while our mother was alive and somehow, he rallied and made a life for himself. He went down for meals, spent time outdoors and worked out in the gym every afternoon. We admired his strength, his independence, his ability to cope.  

Five months later COVID struck and he, like thousands of others in retirement residences/long term care, was isolated. Family was not allowed to visit, lukewarm meals were delivered to his room, working out in the gym or going outside was forbidden. The most the Donway could offer was twice weekly 30-minute Zoom calls from family across Canada and Florida.  

Summer offered a reprieve. We were able to take Dad on picnics in neighbouring parks and for outdoor BBQs in my sister’s backyard. But then fall arrived and COVID shut things down again. Dad was relegated back to his room, but at least this time we were allowed to come visit and play his favourite game — bid euchre.  

Then things changed medically. Dad’s body started to swell and his hemoglobin dropped dangerously low. He was admitted to Scarborough General for five days. COVID restrictions prevented family from visiting. He felt lonely and abandoned. So, upon release, he begged to never be taken to the hospital again. This opened a discussion about medical assistance in dying (MAID).    

Not knowing much about the process, my sister and I decided to pursue two divergent paths. I became responsible for Dad’s medical assistance in living (MAiL) aka palliative care, whereas my sister began to research MAID.  

Things started to unravel quickly. His body started to swell. He stopped sleeping at night. Instead, he cat-napped in his recliner during the day, but this led to severe neck pain. A nurse practitioner attended with oxygen but no pain relief. His doctor was hesitant to prescribe sleeping pills as they would interact negatively with his heart medication. His only relief came in the form of CBD oil and drops.   

Dad fell walking to the bathroom one night. Although he was wearing a call button, he did not have the wherewithal to push it. His personal support worker found him on the floor in the morning, dazed and confused. Requiring 24 hr/day care, we hired PSWs to stay with him overnight while we took turns staying with him during the day.  

Dad’s swelling continued to increase. His doctor said that his heart and kidneys were failing. He realized that every day he was getting worse and that this decline would continue until the end. A second palliative nurse attended and after an hour chat “diagnosed” Dad with mild depression that could easily be fixed if only we pushed him to do more exercise, brought in foods that he liked and replaced TV watching with listening to Christmas carols. She did not know our dad; her simplistic recommendations were an affront to our efforts over many years.   

Palliative care was limited in relieving his suffering, but my sister was learning more about MAID. Information was easy to find on-line, those she spoke to were knowledgeable, forms were filled out and old friends recruited to be witnesses.  

Dad spoke openly to the first MAID doctor about his wishes. The doctor was informative and kind and approved Dad’s choice because he met the eligibility criteria. The second doctor was more demanding, requesting detailed information, medical records and prognoses, but when she actually saw Dad via Zoom, she recognized his decline and waived the 10-day waiting period.  

Nonetheless, we waited 72 hours so his granddaughter and her fiancé could fly in from British Columbia. During this time, Dad was able to spend a full final day with each of his children and one of his grandchildren; he spoke to the others via FaceTime. Initially some family members were appalled and opposed to Dad’s decision but that changed after they spoke to him and saw how much he had deteriorated.    

The retirement home was advised and were exceptionally supportive and discrete. They were able to provide support and insights that proved to be very helpful, like notifying the funeral home in advance.  

On his last day, Dad was ready. He was in his own suite, in his favourite recliner, surrounded by those who loved him, not alone in a hospital bed. While an acoustic guitar played softly in the background, we lit candles and set up photographs of deceased family members who were waiting on the other side. We asked Dad to tell us his WWII story one more time and told him how much we loved him. He’d been a very good husband, father, grandfather. Dad was a strong, stable, independent man always in control of his life and now ultimately, in control his death.  

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