Expanded from The Immortalist June 1, 2000
By Robert C.W. Ettinger:
MAE ETTINGER IN CRYOSTASIS
My wife, Mae A. Ettinger, died on March 18 following a heart attack and stroke. She died at home under hospice care. In attendance were her daughter Bonnie, my son David, and myself, assisted by hospice personnel.
The delay between clinical death and initiation of our procedures was not more than a minute or two. Washout and perfusion were done by a local mortuary that had had previous training and experience-two training sessions plus one previous actual patient.
She was a good woman, a good wife, and a good friend. She lit up my life, and I miss her terribly. But I retain hope for all our present and future patients.
Thanks to the kind friends who have given their support and condolences.
More About Her Illness
This is painful to recall and recount, and I'm not entirely sure why I'm doing it. In part, I suppose, just to vent and try to help put it behind me, to the extent possible. Also, it may help others understand the reality of death and suffering and the need for preparation.
One of the things Mae feared most was to be bed-ridden or wheelchair-bound for months or years. Mercifully, this did not happen.
The other thing she most feared was to have a stroke that would leave her paralyzed and unable to communicate. This did happen, and it was horrible.
On Friday, March 10, she had a heart attack. At first she complained of stomach pain, and she took antacids and waited. Then she decided it was chest pain, and I took her to the hospital emergency room. The EKG indicated a heart attack in progress, and she was taken to the cath lab. One artery was found blocked, and balloon angioplasty was used to open it. The other arteries appeared in good shape. She spent one day in the Cardiac Care Unit, then was transferred to the Telemetry unit, apparently doing well.
On Sunday March 12 she developed atrial fibrillation, which they tried to control with medication. When that failed, she was "jump started" by electroshock on Tuesday March 14. That appeared to succeed, and we (her daughter Bonnie had flown in to be with us) brought her home on Wednesday March 15. She looked and felt much better, and was able to walk around, dress, undress, and enjoy a hot shower.
But she had a hard time falling asleep that night, and didn't get to sleep until about 3:00 A.M. She habitually got to bed late and slept late anyway, so next morning I was not alarmed when she didn't get up in the morning. I had last seen her in apparently normal sleep around 8:00 or 9:00 A.M. But near noon I thought I had better check on her, and was horrified to see that she had obviously had a stroke.
She was in bed with her right arm raised and in repetitive motion. Her eyes were open but not in focus and not moving. She was making gurgling noises. I called for an ambulance. I tried to get responses from her, without success.
In the emergency room, I kept talking to her and holding her hand, trying to calm her and mitigate her distress. It was not clear, then or later, how much she heard, saw, or understood, or how much she suffered. She was sometimes able to squeeze my hand on request, or close her right eyelid, or squeeze it tighter if it was shut. But she could not do this consistently enough to set up a communication code along the lines of "Blink once for yes, twice for no." Still, she knew we were there.
Even before her heart attack, she had been having problems with upper right leg, and in the mornings would often rub it, or I would. Now her whole left side was paralyzed, but she had some motion, and limited control, on her right side. She would frequently raise her right upper leg and rub it with her right hand. Then I would hold her hand gently and rub her leg for her, and she would relax. So to this tiny extent we were able to relieve her a bit. We also kept talking to her, Bonnie and I.
She had often told me that she did not want to be kept around as an invalid, and this was spelled out in her Living Will and Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care. Now I told her, over and over, that she would not have to suffer long. Unless she got much better very soon, we would take her home under hospice care, give her enough sedatives to make her sleep, allow her to die, and freeze her, and when she awoke she would be healthy.
The CAT scan showed no obvious clot or bleeding. She was sent to the Cardiac Care Unit. Her cardiologist and a neurologist said stroke patients sometimes make surprising degrees of recovery very quickly, so I decided to wait overnight. We continued talking to her, reassuring her over and over that she would not have to suffer long.
Overnight there was no apparent improvement. She seemed to sleep part of the night, as evidenced by lack of movement, lower blood pressure, and slower heart rate. In the morning (Friday, March 17) I told the cardiologist that we were going to take her home under hospice care. He had no objection, and this was arranged.
The hospice sent out a hospital bed, oxygen concentrator, and an emergency kit of medications-morphine, ativan, and atropine. Later they sent out more of the medications. These were administered by eyedropper under the tongue. We gave her the maximum recommended dosage at the recommended intervals. When she developed mucous secretions in her throat, I aspirated them with a rubber baby syringe. We continued talking to her. She soon stopped moving and appeared to be sleeping and no longer suffering. Bonnie and Dave and I took turns in attendance, a few hours each at a stretch.
In Maricopa County (Scottsdale/Phoenix etc.), under local law and custom, if the patient is under hospice care, it is not required that a doctor or other professional pronounce death. A family member can do it, although the hospice will send out a nurse if requested. Bonnie had the watch when Mae stopped breathing. She called me and I confirmed cessation of breathing and pulse, and we started icing her down and called the mortuary, which had been alerted, and also informed the hospice.
A Little About Mae
She would have been 86 on June 18. She was born in Jackson, Michigan, spent part of her childhood in Highland Park, Michigan, and most of her teen years in California, some of it on a chicken ranch. Out of six original siblings, she has one surviving sister who is 91. Her children are Bonnie and Patricia. She has five grandchildren and about a half dozen great grandchildren. During her first marriage she lived in eastern Detroit suburbs.
She was divorced when her children were grown, and went to college, eventually earning three master's degrees-in English, Library Science, and Psychology. She taught for many years, mostly at Warren High School. After retiring from teaching, she did private psychological counseling for several years. She has written several books, none commercially published. I may do something with those one day. She also kept a diary, which will be kept in confidence in her archives, for possible use when it is time to revive her.
She became interested in cryonics, and for many years was editor of The Immortalist (originally called The Outlook) for most of the thirty one years of its history, until John Bull took over. She also served as a member of the Board of Directors of the Cryonics Institute for many years. She has been interviewed on a number of TV programs.
We were married in 1988, the year after my first wife, Elaine, died and was frozen. In 1995 we moved to Arizona for the climate, and, except for some health problems during that time, we have been happy here. She loved her house and pool and garden and grapefruit and orange and lemon trees, and the beautiful park where we would take the dogs.
This is not well organized, but the aftermath has already brought a few psychological surprises, although I have always thought I was pretty adaptable. For example, it pains me now to see beautiful things. Looking at our flowers in bloom, which she planted and nurtured, it hurts that she is not here to see them. That will pass, or at least diminish, with time. I have to keep reminding myself that it will not help her if I am morose or melancholy. On the contrary, I must try to be active and productive, to contribute what I can to creating the conditions that will maximize her chances, and those of the rest of us.
Perhaps I will move back to Michigan, as Dave and Connie and Bonnie suggest. I like Arizona better, but on balance Michigan probably makes more sense now.
Thanks to the friends who have given their support and their condolences.
Following are a few photos.
CLICK HERE FOR PHOTOS OF MAE ETTINGER
Back to News and Views