Wounded Iraq Vet Prepares to Die, Saying He's 'Ready to Go'


Since then, they estimate, he takes between 35 to 45 pills a day. He has mucus, but because of his paralysis cannot cough it up so Cuellar presses it out of him ten to fifteen times a day. He takes more pills for waves of nausea that hit him throughout the day, antibiotics for infections, his vision is fading, and he's had increased nightmares they linked to the increase in pain medications. His colon was removed in November and he now can't eat solid food. Young's speech is also quite slurred so his wife jumps in when needed.

"We've had to increase the pain medication over time quite consistently and incrementally so the increase in pain meds will decrease his faculties somewhat so he is becoming forgetful a little bit. He was always very clear before," Cuellar said.

She also must clean "pressure sores" on his buttocks where Cuellar says she can see the "living bone."

"I hope people understand that we are not just deciding to stop feeding because things are kind of difficult," Cuellar said. "It is an insurmountable challenge every day and I don't know how we get through. We get through with each other."

So, how exactly does this happen in the age of modern medicine and to a man who served his country bravely?

Young says it's been a "long process" since he began experiencing "severe abdominal pain in July of 2009" and he hasn't just been struggling with his deteriorating body, but with the health care system, calling the Veterans Affairs (VA) Hospital a "factory." He left in October against medical advice.

"At the VA the doctors seem to think they are so much better than all of their patients and if you try to say, 'Oh what if it's like this?' or 'What if we go down this road?' and they say, 'No, no that won't work,'" Young said. "I said (the VA) was more zoo-like, it's actually more like a factory. Like patients are on an assembly line."

They said the treatment at a private hospital he went to was better, but Cuellar said "there is still this drive towards procedures, surgeries, drugs, procedures, surgeries, drugs."

"When we felt like we had enough of procedures, surgeries, and drugs there isn't a space allowed to begin to talk about transition into hospice or feelings about suffering or death and dying. Even with medical professionals they don't want to talk about it," Cuellar said.

They said when they first approached Young's doctors with his wish to go into hospice they said due to his young age he wasn't the "typical hospice patient."

"This is what happens when a country sends their sons and daughters to war," Cuellar said. "Broken bodies come back and broken bodies deteriorate over time just like a diseased body and just like an aging body and this is the reality. I'm sorry if it doesn't fit your profile of somebody who is 90 years old and about to die going to hospice."

In order to be accepted in a hospice, Young must be "terminally" ill, which he technically is not. They were able to be accepted when he was ruled to have an "inability to thrive." He now has in-home hospice care from Crossroads Hospice.

"All we want to do is go home," Cuellar said, referring to the time before the ruling was made. "We don't want to be in a hospital, we don't want to be in an ER, we don't want to go into a nursing home…we felt like we were like Frankenstein. They just wanted to keep cutting open, stitching up, going in, another pill and this is a dehumanizing process."

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