Sign up for our newsletter
Get health tips, wellness advice, and more

Thanks for signing up!
You've been added to our list and will hear from us soon.

See all Healthline's newsletters »
One Breath at a Time
One Breath at a Time

As a caregiver to a loved one with COPD, Holly McBain offers a unique insight into the trials and tribulations this disease has on the patient, the caregiver, and immediate family. Over the course of time, Holly and her mother have encountered a wide swath of issues concerning the disease and its effects on the patient and how it also affects the caregiver.

See all posts »

Do Not Resuscitate: The Reality of a DNR

It was March 2010, and my father-in-law was dying of COPD. He had been in an acute care hospital for a week after spending more than a month in the hospital. As my husband, my mother-in-law, and I made the trek down the hall to his room, I began to hear loud beeps and alarms. The closer we got to his room, the louder the sounds issued forth.

As I turned to go in his room, I expected to see doctors and nurses frantically saving him. Instead, I only saw two nurses holding him by his head and hands and my father-in-law struggling to live or struggling to die—I still do not know which it was. We all began to cry and scream. I yelled at the nurses to save him, “Why aren’t you saving him?” They responded with a question, “But he has a DNR doesn’t he?” My mother-in-law slowly answered “yes,” and we watched him leave us forever.

A Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) form has become a standard document that is part of all the paperwork that has to be filled out whenever you enter the hospital as a patient. The purpose is to fulfill the wishes of the patient should they arrive at such a state that it is considered impossible to recover their former life. In essence, the patient is signing a release to allow the hospital to let them die rather than try and revive them. It is thought to save the family members the agony of making that decision.

Whenever I thought or heard of a DNR, what came to my mind was someone who was in a coma or brain dead with no hope of recovery. In other words, cases where every effort had been expended to save them and it had become hopeless. Until I watched my father-in-law die, it had never occurred to me that it meant to not save someone who was dying from a chronic disease. As I sit here writing this article, I am wondering about how a DNR is utilized if/when you are on the operating table and your heart stops—do they start CPR or do they walk away? Maybe that is too over-the-top but it does merit consideration and probably needs to be asked of the hospital staff and doctors. 

I am sure that more often than not a DNR works perfectly as intended. But what I encountered that early afternoon in March 2010 was not at all as I had envisioned. We stood there hopelessly watching him and the monitors, screaming, and crying. His heart rate (pulse) briefly elevated to 62 BPM during that time and I believe he heard us and wanted to stay. But shortly thereafter, his pulse dwindled to zero and he was gone. It was one of the worst moments in my life—watching him die and knowing that no one would do anything to stop it.

Even though two years have gone by, I still remember every single second and every detail of that last time with my father-in-law. I wish we had arrived sooner so we could have said goodbye and I wish I had spent the entire day before with him. I hope he knows how much we think of him every day and how much he is missed. 

  • 1

Tags: Hospitalization and Acute Care , Medical Documents and Papers

Was this article helpful? Yes No

Recommended for You

  • Dealing with the Hospitalist Physician

    By: Holly McBain
    Apr 26, 2012

    Every time my mother exacerbates her COPD and is hospitalized, I end up dealing with the Hospitalist, a physician employed at the hospital who is the primary caregiver for her. Although the Hospitalist does defer to my mother's own physicians o...

    Read more »

  • Sometimes it’s Not COPD

    By: Holly McBain
    Mar 19, 2012

    It was April 2011 when my Mom complained that she couldn’t breathe very well and felt weak. She had no fever, but had just completed a course of antibiotics due to allergy drainage. She almost always requires a second dose, so I contacted her pu...

    Read more »


About the Author

Since a COPD diagnosis in 2006, Holly has served as the caregiver for her mother Joan.