KT's Last Days

On the afternoon of Thursday August 9, I drove to Sunrise in Oakland Hills to spend his last two days with him. That day was much like the other days for the last couple of weeks. He spent a lot of time resting, and had dinner sent up to his room. I set up the futon next to the window for myself to sleep on.

At 6:00 AM Friday morning, his caretaker came to wash and shave him. The staff had been informed of his decision, so she must have known that this would be the last time to see him. When she finished, she gave him a long hug and I could hear her sniffling.

Julie arrived in the morning. A little later, Edith called. I hooked up the retro handset so that he could hear, and it worked fine, even without a hearing aid. They had a good conversation. Edith wanted to cancel her appointments for the day and drive up to visit, but KT said just talking on the phone would be fine. At one point, Edit started crying, and KT said "Oh good, someone is crying for me, ha ha!"

Talking with Edith

Around 10 AM, Ana, Tamara, and Olivia arrived. Tamara showed him the poster she made, and they each said their final goodbyes to him.

  KT & Ana, August 10

I left with them to go to the Oakland Zoo for the day. This was a long-planned special behind-the-scenes tour of the lion, tiger, and camel habitats that Olivia had earned through her volunteer internship at the zoo. We also saw the new California Trail exhibit. I enjoyed the zoo but kept thinking about how it was my father's last day.

In the late afternoon, they dropped me off at Sunrise. Andrew and his family were just finishing their visit. After they left, KT had his dinner in his room as usual.

In the evening, before bed, KT asked me asked to see some of my YouTube videos, something he had never done before. He knew that I was interested in the videos, and I guess he wanted to spend some quality time with me. For about an hour, I showed him highlights from my science education videos. We also watched two Go players reviewing a game between the AlphaGo computer and the world champion Go player. After that he was ready for bed.

He was not allowed to have anything to eat after midnight. He didn't want to be hungry the next day, so he had some pancakes and fruit at 9:00 PM, and then went to bed. At 11:40 he got up again to have some crackers, his last chance to eat.

At about 3:00 AM, he got up to use the bathroom and stayed there for about half an hour, then went back to bed. In the morning, he told me it was the worst night of his life because of the discomfort of his urinary blockage (probably because the bladder tumor had returned and was blocking his ureter).

Julie came over and later Tim, Portia, and Martin. KT was eager to start the procedure. The appointment for the doctor to arrive was 10:00 AM, but KT thought it was supposed to be 9:00 AM. When the doctor failed to arrive at 9:00, KT started getting agitated. Julie called the doctor to see if he could come any sooner.

We gave him the first medication at 9:30 AM, which was a nausea prevention pill. The doctor arrived at 9:50. The first thing KT said was "Why are you punishing me? I've done nothing wrong! You doctors think you can always do what you want! Why don't you consider what the patient wants?" He was complaining about the extra hour wait for the procedure to start.

The doctor spoke with KT to calm him down and explain the procedure. There would be three fatal doses of medication. The first is digitalis, a backup in case the other two medications didn't work for some reason. It takes four hours to work and has no effect at all for the first couple of hours. After a half-hour wait, the second dose is given, a mixture of morphine and Valium. This causes a deep sleep within minutes and end of life within a half hour to two hours. Just after swallowing this main dose, the third medication is given, a tiny tablet of fentanyl placed in the mouth between the gum and cheek. This dissolves and administers an additional fatal dose.

The doctor prepared the initial dose of digitalis mixed with fruit juice. He handed it to KT and said, "Once you drink this, there is no turning back." As KT started drinking it, I had to leave the room. I had been worried that Martin would not be able to control his emotions, but as it turned out, I was the only one who could not handle it.

After a few minutes, I returned to the room. KT had finished his drink and was resting quietly. The doctor said "There will be a half-hour wait for the main dose. This is you last chance to speak with the patient. I'll leave the room so you can have privacy."

Julie, Tim, Portia, and Martin each took their turn to speak with KT. I had to leave the room for awhile. I came back in and sat next to him to have my final words with him, and I had a hard time getting them out of my mouth. I thanked him for encouraging me to become an engineer; it had served me well. His eyes were closed and he did not respond, but I'm sure that he was listening.

Finally it was time for him to take the main dose. It was a 1-cup drink to be finished in no more than 2 minutes. Each sip he swished in his mouth before swallowing. The doctor said "there's no need to swish," and I added "Dad, just swallow it." He did manage to finish the drink in 2 minutes. The doctor helped him place the third medication, a tablet, in his mouth.

Within a few minutes, he was in a coma and did not seem to be aware of anything. I didn't want to wait to see him die, so I left the building and went for a walk in the nearby county park, as I had done on many other occasions. Then I returned to the building and sat down in the lounge, and got a book of New Yorker cartoons from the shelf to read.

After about and hour, Martin came looking for me and told me that KT's heart had stopped beating. I went back to the room and saw KT take his last breath.

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