Katy Butler’s articles have appeared in The New York Times Magazine, The Best American Science Writing, and The Best American Essays. A finalist for a National Magazine Award, she lives in Northern California.
There was more. There is a school of thought that maintains that if patients educate themselves and sign all the right forms, they’ll escape the unhappy medical outcomes they dread. But my mother was not just a medical consumer. She was an agonized, exhausted, and still-hopeful wife. She had told my father that he was not to die first and leave her alone. She saw his stroke as a setback to overcome, not as the first loosening of a mooring on a boat that would sail out to sea without her and sink. “I still had hope we could improve things. I hadn’t really taken in that once you’ve had one stroke, you’re likely to have another.”
Dr. Fales watched from the sidelines He knew there were things worse than dying. He own father had recently been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. “If it had been my dad, I’d have talked to my mom and said, “It’s time,” he would tell me later, after both my parents were dead. “The pacemaker is going to extend his life into a period when he has no reason to live. Enough is enough. Let nature take its course.”
But my mother did not call Dr. Fales.
She shrugged and said yes. The pacemaker surgery was scheduled for the following week, and she called to let me know. I bit my lip. It is one thing to silently wish that your father’s heart might fail. It’s another to actively abet his death by opposing surgery.
The effects of these decisions rippled through our lives for the next six years.