One of the down sides to EHOWA's popularity is sometimes I can't be as open as I'd like to be regarding certain subjects. The site gets read by friends, family, neighbors, co-workers, etc ... and unfortunately I find that makes me want to hold back on certain things. I mean reading a story about some anonymous guy on the internet picking his nose in traffic is one thing; but when you're sitting across the table and he hands you a sandwich, it's a little different. I'm going to slip my bonds a little bit today, and I hope my brother doesn't mind too much.
So did I ever tell you my mother's death was ruled a homicide? No shit. Look up the crime statistics for Rochester, NY in 2002 -- realize that one of those forty-two was none other than my dear old mom. "But Ernie, you always say your mom died of cancer," and yep, in my opinion she did. I'll explain but first, a quick lead in. If there's one thing I learned while I was in the Air Force, it was that whenever shit started to go sideways, document everything in the interest of covering your own ass. Simply because as time progresses, you forget the small stuff details. For example, last week I said there was a two week delay from my mother's diagnosis to her first treatment. Not true, as you'll read in just a second, it was actually only one week.
Below are the notes my family and I hastily put together late in the evening of March 8th, 2002, following a rather disturbing meeting with hospital administrators the day after my mother's death. I've had it saved as a Word document for that long, transferring from hard drive to USB drive and back again as I changed computers. It's gone from my old Thinkpad 600X to three different eMachine desktops, to my new Thinkpad T43, and now to a Gateway desktop. From New York to Massachusetts and to Florida. I don't know why I've never deleted it; believe me it's more macabre than sentimental. And while I've taken the liberty of removing a few family names and more personal details (who wants to read how the hospital actually lost my mom's bottom dentures?), it's otherwise here in (mostly) unedited form.
Friday, January 25th, 2002 - My mother Faye Stewart diagnosed with one small tumor on her lung, two large tumors in her brain (one on left side, one in front), and "several" small tumors in her brain as well. Radiation treatment started on 2/4 and continued until 2/18 President's Day (five doses per week). 3-4 days into her treatment she suffered a mild seizure on her right side. Doctors prescribed medicine and the seizures stopped. Following radiation treatment, doctors decided to let her rest for an additional two weeks until her scheduled follow up appointment with her oncologist Dr Ashbury on 3/3 for chemotherapy. She had a few additional seizures before this appointment came to be.
Monday March 4th, 2002 - 2am -- Mom so incapacitated by headaches that my father called the on-call service for her on oncologist, spoke with Doctor Fenton. My father stated that while they have an appointment tomorrow morning at 11am with Dr Ashbury, my mother was not doing well. Dr Fenton replied, "well if you have an appointment at 11am, why are you bothering me at 2am?"
11am. -- While in private room meeting with Dr. Ashbury my mother had a mild seizure on her right side, he immediately admitted her and they went over to Emergency. She was moved to her own room around 6pm that day.
Wednesday March 6th - afternoon - Dr Fenton called family into a private room and told us that her kidneys were failing completely, and the cancer has spread to her liver as well. He predicted that she has no more than 1-2 weeks to live. I asked him specifically how soon it could be... he couldn't say. I asked again, "5 minutes, 5 hours, 5 days?" And he said it could be, "anytime." However they are still trying to "reverse anything that can be reversed" and would continue to do so up until the point where they decided they have done all they could do, then they would start "comfort care".
Thursday March 7th - morning -- mom having difficulty breathing, very labored. Nurse put on oxygen hose. 11am'ish -- I returned from making a trip to the house and my family was in the hallway, they informed me that they have removed mom's IV's and officially started "comfort care." We are visited by the Hospice representative, who explained that they would be taking over her care. 2pm'ish -- breathing continued to be labored, humidifier added to the oxygen hose. 4pm'ish -- breathing gets even worse, so the nurse moved her to an oxygen mask as opposed to the hose.
6:30pm -- I'm on the way home for errands, and I was urgently called back to the hospital by my brother, ‘get back here now'. When I got to the hospital five minutes later, my mother was on the bed, mask off (per her request), unconscious and breathing extremely labored. This continued until she passed at 7:10pm. Doctor came in a few minutes later and declared official time of death at 7:20pm. We gather our things and leave the hospital by 7:45pm
Friday March 8th - 1:00pm -- scheduled meeting with Funeral Home to choose urn, etc. Important to note that since she was being cremated, embalming was NOT going to be performed. My father states that he would like to visually verify my mother's body just prior to the cremation, due to all the fraud cases happening in Georgia at the same time. They agree.
4:00pm -- return home and check the answering machine. There is a message on it from a Dr Soloponte who identified himself as the medical director of the hospital and requested to get in contact with us as soon as we could. He left his pager number and we page him; he calls back and states there is an issue regarding my mother's medical records and the amount of pain medicine she received and how quickly she deteriorated. Requested we come in to discuss with their attorney. 4:25pm -- on the way to the hospital we left numerous messages the attorney who handled my mother's will.
4:30pm -- We all (arrive at the hospital and meet with Dr Soloponte, his secretary (?) and a hospital attorney. We are informed that someone from their day shift made some inquiries as to how quickly my mother deteriorated after being moved to the new room, and as to the amount of morphine she was given. The attorney states that per hospital policy they contacted the Monroe County Medical Examiner (ME) who took posession of my mother's body sometime earlier. At this point, tempers and emotions flared. We were outraged at the poor attempt of communication from the hospital given the fact that they have the cell phone numbers of four family members on my mother's medical records, not to mention my father's answering machine doesn't play a greeting identifying who you called (i.e. just ring...ring...ring...beep). We also expressly stated upon my mother's death that her body was not to be touched... no examination, no cutting, no autopsy, no organ removal. Dr Soloponte stated that the ME would just draw blood to perform a toxicology exam.
5:00pm -- After many heated exchanges, Dr Soloponte gets the ME's office on the telephone. I spoke with an Inspector Walker. He stated that while he was not the decision maker in the issue, he could relay our thoughts and feeling to the doctor who was -- Dr Smith. I explained to him that any examination of my mother's body was expressly against our wishes and we wanted her body returned to the funeral home immediately as we the cremation is scheduled for 9am the following morning. He states that he would pass on these things and we could contact him back in one hour.
5:40pm -- I called the ME's office and spoke with Ins Walker. He states that contrary to what the hospital had told us, they had not taken my mother's body yet -- it was still at the funeral home. He was still waiting to hear back from his boss (Dr Smith). He states that the ME would not perform any kind of an examination without the District Attorney's direction, and they were on the phone talking at that time.
6:00pm -- Inspector Walker calls. He states that on the recommendation of the ME, the DA requested my mother's body be taken from the funeral home to downtown for examination. I told him to pass on to the DA that we demanded a call from them.
6:30pm. Received a call from Joanne Winslow of the DA's office. I asked if she was the decision maker in this process -- no she states that 1st DA Mike Green was the one from their office who officially requested an examination of my mother's body be performed. She stated that as soon as a question was raised in my mother's death and the circumstances surrounding it, they are bound to do some type of investigation, even if it is against the family's wishes.
7:45pm -- Receive a call from the Greece Police requesting to ask my father some questions. We refer them to our attorney.
8:30pm -- Attorney calls back. She states that while most of the people she has tried to contact have not been available, she was still trying. She did speak to Inspector Walker, who stated that the ME's office was on their way to the funeral home to get my mother's body at that time. He was unsure what examination they would do, but maintained it would not take long but we would most likely not make the 9am cremation appointment.
[It was here that huddled around the kitchen table, we collectively rebuilt the timeline of the last two days into this document]
Saturday March 9th - 8:00am -- Received a call from attorney. She states the ME rejected our objection to the autopsy and was performing not just a blood extraction, but a full autopsy, taking tissue samples from the head, chest and abdomen. She also noted that since embalming had been started (?!), the ME's office wasn't even entirely sure they could get accurate results from the tissue samples, so all this may be for nothing. Either way they predicted they would be done and would release the body to the funeral home for cremation by 2pm.
2:00pm -- My whole family arrives at the crematorium and my mother's body did arrive on time for cremation. My father did in fact visually verify her identity by her face, but the rest of her body was shrouded in sheets to hide the autopsy incisions.
The rest of the story didn't unfold anywhere near as quickly, in fact it took the next two motherfucking years before the matter was finally brought to an end. Keep that in mind the next time you're watching CSI and they get the toxicology reports back the same afternoon. Anyway, while my mother was indeed only a week away from her impending demise, the actual cause of death was listed as acute morphine poisoning at the hands of one particular male nurse that took over my mother's care once she was moved into the hospice room. Whether or not it was accidental or intentional was a matter of great debate and dominated not only many a dinner table conversation but some legal inquisitions as well. There were big meetings between us and the Medical Examiner and District Attorneys offices; interviews with the Gates Police department, where my father, two brothers and myself all had to be interviewed separately and recount every excruciatingly horrible details of my mother's final days. Biohazard boxes full of used needles were taken from the hospital, each having to be catalogued and tested. And of course the lawyers, you can't forget the lawyers! Oh yes, good times, good times.
In the end, the DA decided they couldn't prove the nurse did it intentionally, and it was chalked up to negligence. But, since one human being directly caused the premature death of another human being's, on my mother's death certificate the little box next to 'HOMICIDE' is indeed checked off. Kinda cool, actually. Mom went out all gangsta and shit. Now some of you might wonder if I harbor any hard feelings towards the parties involved; the doctors, the hospital, the police, the DA/ME, and of course the nurse in question. Nope. Not a bit. People were just doing their jobs. Well, there were of course many a heated argument and I think Joanne Winslow was a complete cunt to us during this whole ordeal, she made us feel like she was more concerned with putting another notch in her belt than anything else. But, bygones, right? But more specifically to the nurse, I don't think ill of him at all. In fact, I was quite vocal in supporting him during the investigation, and during an interview I was quite eager to inform Ms. Winslow that not only would I contribute money towards his defense if needed, but would gladly testify on his behalf.
Whaaa? Help defend the person who, "killed my mom"? Uhh, no. Listen. The nurse did not kill my mom. Neither did the hospital, or the morphine, or the pharmacist, or the orderlies, or the lawyers, or anyone else for that matter. Let's be clear; cancer killed my mom. And to those of you who say every minute of life is precious and nobody has the right to play God, I proudly say to you here and now in the loudest voice I can muster; fuck you. No it isn't. So when someone who deals with death and misery every day, pulls you and your family aside and says, "it won't be long now," then brother you'd better fucking listen. The way I see it, we're lucky because the entire family had the opportunity to say goodbye and intentional or not, he ushered my mother out with dignity and mercy. Now as you might expect, not all who bear the Stewart surname agree with me, but I'm at peace with it.
Anyway, I don't know what made me decide to tell this story seven years on, but much like my Chase-Pitkin grand larceny adventure, there it is like it or not. As a side note, how hospital pharmacies dispense morphine is really fucking stupid. It comes pre-packaged in 10cc syringes. So if the doctor prescribes 2cc's of morphine, the pharmacies dispense a 10cc syringe, the nurse is then supposed to administer the prescribed dosage and discard the rest. I understand that's probably due to some packaging limitations, or maybe it's too impractical to manufacture smaller doses, but it leaves a lot of wriggle room for mistakes. Anyway. On the upside, with this story posted here, I can finally delete this fucking file.
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