Dear Abby: I feel guilty about hospital error that cut short my wife’s life

Doctors violated her living will because they didn’t have access to a copy.

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DEAR ABBY: I would like to address a problem I’ve never seen in your column. A lot of people have living wills but most don’t remember what’s in them.

My wife went to the hospital for a routine procedure that required anesthesia. After three hours of what was supposed to be a one-hour procedure, a nurse came out, said there was “a problem” and took me back to the recovery room. My wife was writhing on the bed and kept rasping, “I can’t breathe!” Six nurses tried to put an oxygen mask over her face, but she kept fighting them, trying to rip it off. I was in total shock.

I didn’t know how to help her, so I asked the anesthesiologist standing there to do something, and he said her living will was a DNR (do not resuscitate). She remained in cardiac and respiratory distress for eight hours before a pulmonologist was mercifully called and she was put on a ventilator.

I went home and pulled out our living wills. Hers stated, and I quote, “the individual so named must be terminally ill or permanently unconscious.” I had no idea. She was neither of those things. If I’d had a copy of the living will WITH me, I’m sure she would have immediately been put on a ventilator. I lost her six months later, on Christmas morning.

I urge everyone who goes to the hospital for any procedure to make sure the person accompanying them has a copy of their advance directive. I still feel guilty. Her outcome could have been so much different, and she might have lived much longer. — GRIEVING HUSBAND

DEAR GRIEVING HUSBAND: Please accept my deepest sympathy for the loss of your wife. Suffering as much pain as you are over her death, please don’t torture yourself further over what you “would have, could have, should have” done. I appreciate your taking the time to share this important information with me and my readers. Your letter serves as a reminder that all end-of-life documents should be reviewed regularly to be sure they reflect current thinking. Thank you.

DEAR ABBY: I have a large extended family who all live a few states away. I didn’t grow up with any of them, as I’ve never lived near them. I see or speak to them maybe once a decade. We don’t exchange emails, and we aren’t friends on Facebook. This isn’t because I don’t like them; they are pleasant strangers.

I get the impression that my limb of the family tree is perceived as the affluent one, and I sometimes receive life-event announcements from cousins and their children I haven’t seen in years and don’t know. In truth, I think I receive them only for the possibility of receiving something from me. Am I obligated to send a gift just because I received an invitation to events they know I will never attend — such as graduations, baby showers, etc.? — PURSUED RELATIVE

DEAR RELATIVE: You are not obligated to send a gift or money to people you have barely met. You are also not obligated to send gifts to people you haven’t had contact with in a decade. The announcements should not, however, go unacknowledged. Send a nice card with a congratulatory note, and you may find yourself receiving fewer of these invitations as postage becomes increasingly expensive.

Dear Abby is written by Abigail Van Buren, also known as Jeanne Phillips, and was founded by her mother, Pauline Phillips. Contact Dear Abby at or P.O. Box 69440, Los Angeles, CA 90069.

Abby shares more than 100 of her favorite recipes in two booklets: “Abby’s Favorite Recipes” and “More Favorite Recipes by Dear Abby.” Send your name and mailing address, plus check or money order for $16 (U.S. funds), to: Dear Abby, Cookbooklet Set, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Shipping and handling are included in the price.)

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