“So – Are You Going to Sue the Hospital?”


I understand why people ask if I’m going to sue. My brother always said, “If you put me in the hospital, they’ll kill me.” And they did.

On the other hand, my brother killed himself. Biff’s choices led directly to his death. I know that.

Yeah, I yelled at the doctor and told him to quit bullshitting me when he said “the procedure” had nothing to do with Biff’s death. And yeah, I flipped out when the anesthesiology firm that “provided the services” that stopped Biff’s heart left a pre-recorded satisfaction survey on his phone. But in the end, I’m just looking for someone to blame other than my dear departed brother.



The Whole Story – Sort Of

I haven’t told you the whole story of Biff’s death, and I may never. Partly to protect his dignity, partly because the six-year story is too long, and partly because it’s ongoing. I’m still processing.

Here are a few posts that give you an idea:



In short, after our mother died six years ago, my brother collapsed mentally, physically, and emotionally. Deep depression, anxiety attacks, and PTSD led to congestive heart failure, and Biff declined treatment. Sadly, his distrust of the medical community – not entirely unfounded – kept him from having the surgery that could have saved his life.

Some days he would admit he had heart failure, some days he would say it was indigestion, some days he would boil up dandelion leaf broth, some days he would take vitamin C. But he would never see a doctor outside of the two times he landed in the hospital.

On his third and final trip to the hospital (a facility which will remain nameless so that THEY don’t sue ME), they told us it was too late for the heart surgery.  As much as Biff would protest my saying it, the doctors were right. Just as they predicted, he was experiencing multiple organ failure due to a faulty heart valve.

But just as Biff predicted, he was dead within days of entering the medical system. When they put him under “light sedation” to do a “simple” endoscopy to see how damaged his liver was, he died. His heart stopped.

What Was the Point?

Why did it matter how damaged his liver was? They had already told us he had weeks or perhaps several months to live. The palliative care “end times” doctor was due to talk to us that very afternoon. I was looking for a nursing home where Biff could receive hospice care.

So why? Did they just want to use their shiny new endoscopy machine? I don’t know. I choose to believe that there was some reason for the test. The cardiologist had said that Biff’s organs were improving: while they weren’t optimistic, they would reevaluate him for surgery. So I’m guessing that’s why they decided to do this risky procedure on a dying man.

Death is Not Simple

So you see? It’s very complicated. It usually is. Part of grief is all the second-guessing, the questioning, the anger, the search for blame. I would like to be through that stage and move on to proper mourning, where I can accept that he is gone and just pound the walls and wail. Unfortunately, the grieving process doesn’t involve a multiple choice menu. You just take it as it comes.

I’m not sure the endoscopy was the smartest thing . . . no, I take that back. It obviously was not, given that pesky old “do-no-harm” Hippocratic oath. Do you sedate a dying man with dangerously low blood pressure who is already on morphine? No, you do not.

But the fact is, he was dying. The hospital facilitated his death, brought on the actual event, but Biff chose the manner of his passing.

He had been in a lot of pain for a long time, and God had mercy on him, given the dreadful scenarios that could have transpired with multiple organ failure. He died in his sleep, after having spent the morning discussing his cat and Shakespeare with his nurses. There are worst fates.

So, no. I’m not going to sue the hospital.

I’m just going to be grateful for every day I’m alive, and I’m going to try to stay clear of hospitals.

I suggest you do the same — that is, unless you have heart failure. Then go to the damn doctor.

Late Summer Dream

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This essay appears  in the new issue of Outside In Literary and Travel magazine.  http://outsideinmagazine.com/ Enjoy!


by Melanie Lynn Griffin

Early this morning, I woke to the sound of a Barn Owl emoting outside my window. It was a harsh, jarring sound, but not as harrowing as the murderous fisher cat squalling that sometimes fills my cabin here in the woods. Still, I was glad to be awakened; glad to leave the dream of my brother’s death. I had been anticipating this dream with trepidation, ever since the heart failure diagnosis two years ago.

It wasn’t a nightmare, oddly enough. I was mostly fascinated by the fact that Biff’s facial hair had stopped growing. He said that’s how he could tell he was dead. I was finding it hard to move from denial to grief, given that he seemed pretty much the same as always, except without the five o’clock shadow. And also, I couldn’t find my Toyota in the parking lot, which was somehow more unsettling than my brother’s death and apparent resurrection.

The dream came the first night I arrived at my summer cabin in New Hampshire, following eight days at a suburban D.C. hospital where I bustled around Biff’s bed, restlessly rearranging Kleenex boxes, Styrofoam cups, and wilting gladiolas.

“He’s going to end up here more and more often,” forecast the funereal-faced cardiologist, “unless he has the mitral valve operation.”

“It’s all a scam,” my brother insisted. “They just want me hooked on their drugs and sucked into their surgery machine so they can make money off me.” He left the hospital for the second time in as many years without the operation, but with a bag full of meds he probably won’t take.

I fled.

Having been woken up before dawn, I figure I deserve to take the day off. I’m going to rest, indulge my Henry James phase, and try to remember to breathe more deeply. Sitting on my back deck, I bite into an intoxicating late summer peach I got from the farmer down the road. The sweet juice flows down my chin and lavishly adorns my t-shirt. The browning meadow is dotted with goldenrod, and I think there’s the tiniest twinge of crimson in the sugar maples. Apple leaves, tired of hanging on through the long drought, drift down onto the deck as yellow warblers bicker in the branches.

The ancient hydrangea bush begins to sway, and I’m startled when a dappled fawn materializes from behind a veil of white blossoms. The animal seems deep in contemplation, as it gently plucks up and delicately chews its vermillion breakfast of Indian Paintbrush. It seems late in the year for a fawn – too close to hunting season. I consider worrying, but decide against it. It’s my day off and besides, I’m not in charge of life and death.

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