story by Ina Jaffe – listen to her story on NPR here
On the last day of his life, Charles Caldwell was surrounded by seven members of his family, but no one thought he was dying. He was in a Dallas-area nursing home, recuperating from surgery to insert a feeding tube. Caldwell had Parkinson’s disease. He’d “lost his ability to swallow,” explains Caldwell’s son-in-law, Bill Putnam.
Things began to go wrong, Putnam says, when a licensed practical nurse gave Caldwell some medication through his feeding tube. The medicine wouldn’t stay down. So, as Putnam describes it, the nurse came back with the medication in three large syringes and forced the liquid into Caldwell’s stomach.
Within a few minutes, he was choking.
“This medication is traveling up his esophagus and then into his lungs,” Putnam says, “and he can’t expel it like you and I could. So, within minutes, Dad’s thrashing his arms and legs for his last breath. He has no pulse. His eyes are fixed. He’s not breathing.”
Putnam says that the family could do nothing but watch Caldwell drown.