When I met D she had already passed her 100th birthday a few years prior. As her newly assigned hospice nurse, I walked up to her home for my first visit. I quickly noticed a sign on her mailbox, “DNR” printed in large block letters on hot pink paper. Her name and house number were on the box too, but the DNR dwarfed both. There was a DNR sign on her front door. Same large block letters and hot pink paper. D opened the door briskly after the second knock, pulling on a hot pink bathrobe. She was less than 5 feet tall and had spiky white hair with random tufts of hot pink throughout.
“Hello,” I said introducing myself and explaining why I was there. She welcomed me into her home. I noted three more DNR signs in the entry way. Same message, same block letters, same hot pink paper. DNR. It means “Do Not Resuscitate.” In the medical world it means if someone has stopped breathing or their heart has stopped beating you do not resuscitate them. No rescue breathing. No CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation). Okaaaaay. I was getting a very clear picture for goals of care. I would not be doing CPR. Or rescue breathing. Or calling 911.
As I entered the house D scampered down the wide tile hallway towards a kitchen at the far end of the house, beckoning me to come with her. I found two more DNR signs posted along the hallway. The hallway opened into a giant kitchen that had been forgotten in the mid-1970s. As I followed D into the room, rust orange, lime green, macramé planters with hanging plants, and dark brown tiles assaulted my senses. A burner on the stove had a giant silver pot on it with steam billowing out. D ably climbed up a step stool that was standing on the floor and stuck her head into the steam cloud.
She poked her head back out of the steam and blinked twice. “Might as well make yourself useful,” she told me, and pointed to the stool beneath her. “I need to move this now.”
As I walked around to see what was being moved I found two more DNR signs taped on kitchen cabinets. D pointed to a spot on the floor in front of the kitchen sink and directed me to move the stool there.
Not knowing what else to do, I picked up the stool and moved it. Before I had a chance to object or help, D hefted the giant, steaming pot and carried it over to the sink. She climbed up the stool and proceeded to dump the contents into a massive strainer dish that filled the entire sink. Hot pink water splashed everywhere and the sink was soon overflowing with steaming hot beets. The pink tufts of hair became clear as D picked up a beet. She looked at it, set it back down, then ran her hands through her hair. More pink tufts.
“You are the hospice nurse.” A statement, not a question, as she looked away from her beets and focused on me.
“Yup….” I looked back, not sure what to say next.
“Good. Good. Here is how this will work. I do not, I repeat, do not, want to be resuscitated. I have lived a wonderful life but it is time when it is time. I have no family, no kids. No one left. So, no CPR. No zapping me. No tubes anywhere. You let me go and you make sure everyone who comes on this property and into this house knows that. Got it?” A hot pink finger pointed my direction.
“Yup, ermmm…” I looked around the kitchen finding another two DNR signs on the refrigerator. “I’m pretty sure all your signs might help with that…” I gestured at the DNR sign closest to me on the cabinet.
She looked at me. I held my breath uncertain if I had crossed a line. Then she cackled and said we would get along just fine. She patted my arm leaving a hot pink mark.
I was blessed to be given a few lovely months with D before she died. I would visit weekly and she was always busy doing something. She made most of her own food. Cleaned her own house. Paid her own bills. She had a caregiver help with driving and shopping once a week. Otherwise she was independent at 100+ years old. She walked daily. Laid in the sun daily. Read voraciously with giant reading glasses. Played piano. Loved informercials. She thought the new inventions were absolutely delightful. Occasionally she bought one for $19.95 plus S&H (shipping and handling), then proudly demonstrated it for me.
D died quietly in her home. She transitioned quickly and with very little fuss. There was no CPR, tubes, or zapping. I lost count of how many DNR signs she had. If there were a record for DNR signs she would win. Of note, she did die holding a small jar of beets. I have always wondered if she found a way to take those beets with her into her next life.