That’s Surely Not My Right

A year ago this week, in October 2019, my wife was moved to a hospital in Oxford to have an emergency shunt fitted in an attempt to relieve the pressure and fluid build-up around her brain. It was not an easy task to even get her there and the surgery was only one part of a long and stressful 48 hours, following an already stressful few weeks. At the start of this though I was confronted with a decision I was not ready for.

Before arriving at the hospital in Oxford, my wife had been in Stoke Mandeville. When we first arrived at A&E there, with my wife suffering from major headaches, I was presented with something I was unable to face. As she slept on a bed in the assessment suite, suitably dosed up with painkillers, a doctor pulled me to one side. They delivered their findings. There were four sizeable brain tumours in my wife’s head and potentially many more speccy bits, as we would later refer to them. This was news to me and was a devastating shock. One of life’s proper, deep, oh shit moments. Then, almost without pause for breath, the news was followed by a clip boarded form being presented to me. They asked me to sign a DNR order. Do Not Resuscitate. Whilst, in the end, it would be a medical decision, they wanted my permission to let her go should something happen. Do Not Resuscitate. Let her go, don’t try and save her. Yes, kids, I told the hospital to not try and save Mummy. Do Not Resuscitate.

I was her husband yet it didn’t feel like it was fair on my wife for me to make that decision. It wasn’t my life, it was hers. Surely she should make that choice. If that was not possible, after all the doctors thought she might not even wake up that very afternoon or be coherent if she did, then surely that should be the decision of her father or brother, or a combined decision. It may have been cowardly but I said “she can make that decision when she wakes up” and I refused to sign it. I received an irritated look from the doctor but I had bigger problems on my mind. I was angry at being asked immediately after being given the news that would need time to be processed, and I genuinely didn’t feel it was my right to make that decision.

She did wake up that afternoon and, it now occurs to me, I actually don’t know whether they asked her to sign her own DNR or, if they did, whether she signed it.

Whilst cathartic, it is sometimes hard to revisit these memories so I will write more about the move to Oxford and the brain shunt in another post.

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