My mother now had been in the hospital for 16 hours without receiving the sepsis protocol — the standard group of treatments and actions — that she needed to save her life. The clock kept on ticking toward 2 a.m.
I wish I'd done more at that point — insisted on waking both my mother's oncologist and the hospital's intensive-care doctor at home, demanded that they come to the hospital. Instead, by that point I felt lost and powerless. I'd already insisted that my mother be moved to the ICU. What would happen if I made additional demands? Would the ICU nurse start avoiding my mother's room? If I criticized my mother's oncologist, what would happen to their relationship? I knew there could be a downside to being too demanding in a hospital.
I was losing my own confidence as a doctor, becoming instead the helpless son. Every 10 minutes or so, my mother, uncomfortable in the stiff bed, asked me to get her up. "Please," she begged. I couldn't do that with her blood pressures so low; I could only help her change position.
By 3 a.m., I'd given up on the hospital. My single thought was: "We've got to get her out of here." I began making plans to move her to another hospital in the morning. The transfer request forced my mother's oncologist to relinquish primary responsibility to an intensive-care doctor who provided the right treatments. In the end, she stayed put.
But by the time the sepsis protocol was finally put in place, 23 hours had passed since my mother had entered the hospital. She still had a chance to survive, but because of the squandered opportunity, it was now a very small one.
During the following days, my mother battled hard. But her infection and the delay in treatments proved too much. Toward the end, in a final moment of lucidity, she opened her eyes and whispered, "I never got to say goodbye." She was dead by the end of the week.