In 2018, my husband, Don, passed away after a 6-year journey with cancer. Medical Assistance in Dying (MAID) was a part of our journey even though, in the end, he never used it. Recently I was asked about the experience, and today I wrote it out. I thought I would share it here.
In September 2018, Don was admitted to the Foothills Hospital for a shift in his pain mediations. He had metastasized colorectal cancer to the lung and bones and struggled enormously with the pain. After a 5-day stay and a successful drug transition, Don was to go home and head out for fishing. But the day he was supposed to be discharged, his oxygen levels plummeted as his lungs aggressively filling with liquid. We were told he was likely not to leave the hospital and to prepare for the end.
A couple of weeks later, still in the hospital, a palliative doctor agreed to talk with us about MAID. She described the process and informed us that he could be exempt from the ten-day waiting period, given his condition's gravity. I was to complete the forms and submit them to get the process started.
I arrived the next day with the forms in hand and sat beside him on the bed. Our good friend Karen, who was one of his witnesses, was sitting quietly in the corner. Don asked me to read the forms aloud. When I got to the line, "I request that a medical practitioner or nurse practitioner either prescribe a substance that I may self-administer or administer a substance to me, that will cause my death," I stopped. I could barely breathe. I was crying—it was overwhelming. He took my hand; he had no tears.
Karen asked if I wanted her to continue reading. I nodded, yes. Thoughts were racing through my mind. "How was this happening? How am I sitting here in this space reading a document to Don about ending his life?"
Karen finished reading, we filled in the forms, and I submitted them to the unit desk.
About a week later, on the Friday before Thanksgiving, the MAID Physician arrived. He described the MAID procedure to us in detail. Don would move to another unit at the hospital and be asked if he wanted to proceed. If he said yes, they would administer the first injection, a gentle sedative. He would then be asked again if he wanted to proceed. If he said yes, they would administer the second injection to put him to sleep. The final drug would then be administered to stop his heart, and his breathing would cease.
He asked Don several questions and informed us that Don was exempt from the ten-day waiting period. Don shared his thoughts and agreed he wanted to move forward. Confused, I asked, "What does not having to wait the ten days mean?" The Doctor replied, "I can do it on Tuesday. Normally I make appointments Monday and Friday, but I can schedule it for Tuesday because it is the long weekend."
I lost my breath. Tuesday? Only four days away. I looked at Don. He was sitting looking ahead, his jaw twitching as it did when he was stressed. I asked if we needed to decide immediately, the Doctor replied, "No, I only need 24 hours, let me know on Monday."
After the Doctor left, the energy in the room was thick. All I could think about was Tuesday. Don could make an appointment with death, on Tuesday.
For the rest of the day, we barely talked; the silence was welcome. I never left his side all weekend. I slept at the hospital every night and pondered, "What if this was it? What if this was the last few days of his life?" There was no way I could leave.
Over the weekend, Don's mindset shifted. Something happened with this new choice available to him. His anxiety went down; he was calmer. His oxygen levels balanced, and his dependency on it lowered. As I watched him over the next three days, I realized he was not planning to die on Tuesday. He was working on getting his oxygen levels down to leave the hospital, and he did.
On October 22, Don entered hospice and the next day, which was a Tuesday, Don and I were married. He never cancelled his MAID application; he always had the choice. Every so often, I would ask, "Is this enough, is today enough? What about MAID?" His jaw would twitch, and he would reply, "Nope, not yet. Let's wait a bit more". He died without MAID on December 16, 2018.
I was so grateful for having the choice to use MAID, although not an easy one. It gave him some form of control in a situation where there was no control and brought a great deal of peace.
Contemplating MAID is challenging. It is not black and white – it is a rich, grey arena. Deep consideration regarding all end-of-life choices, including MAID, is essential.
One never knows what Tuesday might bring.