Death in the family reveals need to respect patients' end-of-life wishes

Guest post by Lynn McVey, who serves as chief operating officer of Meadowlands Hospital Medical Center, an acute care, 230-bed hospital in New Jersey.

It was 2:38 a.m.; the phone call I was waiting for. My Dad was 92 and lived a full life of family, fun, faith, purpose and service. He was healthy up until the day he went into heart failure. With his 30-page, attorney-prepared, Advance Directive in hand, he announced to his family and cardiologist that he planned to follow his instructions under the sub-chapter "heart failure." My 92-year-old Dad refused to have a pacemaker inserted.

For four days, we gathered family and friends to say goodbye to the man who had no enemies. Many times, there were 10 or more in his room, listening to him tell stories about each of us, as he held our hands and hugged us. It was obvious he was prepared for this moment. It was actually very beautiful to watch him acknowledge everyone individually, say an emotional goodbye, and leave each of us with some gift of advice for our future happiness.

On the fifth day, his heart rate was dipping into the 30s, which would have been his final day with us. In a surprise last-minute call, he agreed to have a pacemaker. He lived another six months at my home. I was fortunate enough to live the last chapter with my Dad. We shared meals, American Idol ("That Jennifer is one pretty girl," he'd say both Mondays and Tuesdays), my porch swing, his granddaughter, root beer floats, tennis matches, career talk and stories I had never heard before. For me, that was a priceless six months.