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