By Dorothy Knightly
My husband, William F. Knightly Jr., died on April 26, 2017, from untreated sepsis, which he contracted at a New Hampshire hospital while under the “care” of a hospice and palliative care specialist.
In early February 2017, my husband had lung and lymph node biopsies with negative results. The oncologist said they didn’t know if he had kidney cancer and wouldn’t know unless they took out his kidney. William refused. If there was nothing wrong with it, he said, they would take it out for nothing. The oncologist wasn’t happy. His whole demeanor changed toward my husband and me.
After having the biopsies, William started getting weak. The oncologist prescribed Cipro (an antibiotic used to treat bacterial infections). He had all the side effects listed for Cipro, but the doctor overlooked them and just assumed that my husband was dying of lung cancer.
Hospitalized by deception
We refused when the doctor asked if William wanted to be admitted to hospice care. My husband told the doctor that he didn’t want to die; he wanted treatment. The doctor responded that my husband would be admitted to the hospital for a short time to get his strength back and his pain controlled.
On March 16, 2017, my husband walked into the hospital on his own two feet and was admitted, at which time he was given Dilaudid (a pain-control medication) intravenously. The next day, William told me that a man visited him. We weren’t told this man was a hospice and palliative care (HPC) physician who was there to handle William’s pain medication. The doctor started him on 15 milligrams of MS Contin (extended-release morphine) twice a day and 15 milligrams of morphine every four hours if needed for breakthrough pain. Without his knowledge or consent, William had been admitted to hospice.
Insidious secrecy, serious abuse, and life-threatening neglect
Frequent lab tests were performed. Sepsis (a life-threatening blood infection) and other illnesses were found, but at that time, we weren’t informed about them, and William wasn’t given any treatment for these illnesses.
In the hospital, my husband was diagnosed with cancer of the lung, kidney, and spine. During the first week there, he walked with a walker, ate, drank, talked, joked, and even played the harmonica with our two-year-old granddaughter.
The HPC doctor kept increasing the dosage of oral morphine until it was up to 225 milligrams daily. He was given morphine every four hours for breakthrough pain and extended-release morphine every eight hours. I’m positive of this because, after my husband died, I reviewed every page of his medical records.
During the second week, William stopped walking, eating, and talking. All he did was sleep. My family and I pleaded for a feeding tube because he kept losing weight, but our request was refused. They told us that it would require surgery and that he couldn’t have surgery.
On March 23, against my husband’s wishes, he received five rounds of radiation on his spine for the supposed tumors on his L3 vertebra. After his death, I reviewed his medical records. They did not indicate that he had any tumors, but did show he had spinal stenosis and a fractured spine in five places. Again, we weren’t informed about these conditions, and he received no treatment for them.
The staff wasn’t supposed to wake my husband to give him pain pills, but they woke him anyway. When he refused pain medications during the night, he was finally lucid enough to tell me that he had to get out of there—because they were trying to kill him. He was right.
I complained to one of the nurses that my husband was being given too much morphine. She agreed, then told me they were having a meeting and would discuss it. After the meeting, the morphine dosage was lowered slightly, but he kept sleeping and was very weak.
On April 6, the hospital finally agreed to discharge William. He was in much worse shape than when he was admitted. While the palliative care doctor was in his room, the hospitalist came to see William. The hospitalist woke him and asked if he was in pain. My husband answered, “I don’t know.” The hospitalist got angry and said, “If he doesn’t know if he’s in pain, he isn’t. He’s being overmedicated. I’m taking over his medication right now.” The palliative care doctor left the room. We never saw him again.
Obsessed with death
My husband went home that day in an ambulance. He had pressure ulcers (bedsores) on his lower back, and I think he was still suffering from sepsis, one symptom of which is diarrhea. On the second day he was home, after being prescribed Marinol (a drug used to relieve nausea and vomiting), William started eating again. He seemed to be doing well, even though he couldn’t walk because he was weak from the morphine still in his system.
We opted for home health care. The home health care nurse was supposed to be the only nurse he would see. We very explicitly stated that we did not want hospice nurses because all they talk about is death. Nevertheless, they sent an HPC nurse-practitioner (NP) without telling us who she was. My husband didn’t want to die, but, true to form, all she talked about for three straight days was death. It sent my husband over the edge. On April 18, I thought William had a stroke. I didn’t find out until I read his medical file, after his death, that he had suffered a heart attack—not a stroke.
Before the NP arrived that day, my son and I were visiting with my husband. He was talking and happy. Here is what we witnessed: The NP mentioned the HPC doctor’s name. My husband threw up his arms and tried to yell. The NP saw him have the heart attack, but she did nothing except suggest giving him Haldol for agitation. I wouldn’t let her. I told her he was fine until she came in ranting about death. When she left, he lay there with his mouth wide open and his eyes half shut. I called his primary care physician and told her what happened.
The home health care nurse phoned that night to tell us the NP was no longer allowed to come to our house and that she would be there the next day.
More hospital horrors
When the nurse arrived on April 19, she saw that William was dehydrated, so she called 911. An ambulance took him back to the hospital. In the emergency room, we were informed that he only had a couple of hours to live. Still, no one said anything about a heart attack or sepsis. They kept saying he was dying of cancer.
William was moved to the ICU that evening. They didn’t want to give him an IV, but I insisted. After doing blood work, they said he had an infection. They weren’t sure what or where it was, so they put him on IV antibiotics. The antibiotics were stopped that evening without our permission. We thought the infection had been caught in time and treated. Why else would they discontinue lifesaving antibiotics?
His hemoglobin count was 7.5. If it went down to seven, they said he could get a blood transfusion. Also, his white blood cell count was extremely high (24,000), so they took him off the saline and gave him dextrose (sugar). He then became responsive. He shook his head for yes and no and held my hand.
On the next morning, he was moved to a room on the fifth floor and given a saline IV again. He lay there with his mouth wide open and his eyes half shut, unable to drink or talk. I requested a CAT scan to see if he’d had a stroke. I also requested more blood tests because I thought he might need a transfusion. The hospitalist denied my request: “Why waste the blood on him when someone bleeding to death could use it more?”
I arranged to transfer William to a cancer hospital. Two physicians were waiting for him there, but the hospitalist refused to give him a referral. Next, they wanted to put him on a morphine drip. I refused. My husband was responsive enough to shake his head no. He also refused the flu shot they tried to give him. He was afraid they were going to kill him.
I stayed with him 24/7, holding his hand. We both feared for his life. He was responsive until the day before his death. On Wednesday, April 26, my husband finally gave up and died, with his family present and me still holding his hand.
After examining his medical file, I found out he had a urinary tract infection that wasn’t treated. Also, the hospital’s vice president of patient affairs told me my husband did not have kidney cancer. In fact, his medical records didn’t indicate that there was anything wrong with his kidneys. His file did reveal that he’d suffered a heart attack. The undertaker, who had a copy of William’s death certificate, told me that my husband had died of sepsis—not cancer.
I sent documentation concerning William’s death to the New Hampshire Medical Board. After going through his paperwork, they found that, even though we did not want a do not resuscitate (DNR) order and there was no signed DNR in his medical records, my husband was ILLEGALLY given DNR status—that is, no attempt was made to resuscitate him.
An urgent warning
Our loved ones are dying because hospice and palliative care providers are getting away with illegal euthanasia. That is, patients’ lives are being intentionally ended by denial of lifesaving and life-sustaining medical treatment, and instead are being drugged into oblivion. This needs to end. People must be warned so they can protect their loved ones. I’m telling my painful story to help expose the horrific and increasingly common practice of stealth euthanasia* to a mostly unsuspecting public.
*“Stealth euthanasia” means deliberately hastening a patient’s death while pretending to provide appropriate treatment and care. Actions and omissions intended to cause death are disguised or hidden from those who may object, such as concerned family members.
Editor’s note: When a person (patient) is in the hospital and/or receiving hospice and/or palliative care, it is wise for the patient, family, medical power of attorney agent (proxy), or legal guardian to frequently check the patient’s medical records. Look for new medication orders or dosage changes, discontinuation of usual medications (such as blood pressure medications, insulin, etc.; results of lab tests and other medical tests; and secret DNR orders.
Trust your gut. If you are uneasy or suspicious about something that you’re being told, or that is being done or not being done to the patient, ask doctors and nurses questions and request honest answers. If you don’t understand what medical personnel are saying, ask them to explain in terms you can understand. If you’re still concerned, seek a second opinion. In a situation where a patient’s life is in danger, legal assistance may be necessary. Email email@example.com for more information or help.
HALO’s “Drugs Commonly Used in Hospice and Palliative Care” fact sheet is a useful guide for patients and their medical decision makers who have questions about medications, their side effects, or pain control in general. It may be downloaded at https://halorganization.com/pdf/drug-sheet.pdf.