Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Sometimes It's a Good Day to Die

My mother died last week.

Two seeks shy of her eighty-fifth birthday, her failing heart slowed to a trembling twenty-five beats per minute. Her care-givers became alarmed. "Elsie, do you know where you are? Elsie, what day is this? Elsie, what’s my name? Elsie? Elsie!" They called an ambulance.

On the ride to the hospital, her heart went silent. The paramedics zapped her. A few more miles down the road, her heart stopped again. And once again, they shocked her back to life.

So Mom, robbed of her peaceful, mercifully muzzy exit from this life, spent four days in the hospital receiving the "gift" of a pacemaker, which will keep her heart bravely pumping while she dies, by inches, of kidney failure. Her doctor gives her three to six months before her kidneys give out completely.

Oh, yes; she’s alive. But she can’t go back to her apartment now; she shares a room in a nursing home with two other women in much the same state as she: mostly cognizant, thoroughly miserable, and afraid.

On top of that, it seems my mother was rudely yanked back into this life only to be at the mercy of the 21st century American health care system. A system rife with absentee physicians, overworked office staff, and so many layers of responsibility that it’s impossible to know whom to call when for what condition. And whether that person will deign to call you back if you do figure it out. Mom’s orders have been lost, her meds have been screwed up, her doctor has gone AWOL. Her care since her miraculous rescue can be accurately summed up with the old WW II army term—" FUBAR."

But, hey. She’s alive. In pain, afraid, and not receiving a tenth of the attention she needs. But she’s alive.

Everyone knows that I am hardly mankind’s foremost cheerleader lately. We’ve screwed up so badly that I honestly don’t know why the Almighty doesn’t just rear back a huge celestial hand and squash us like the poisonous insect we are. Every day, in millions of ways, our science merely proves what ignorant control freaks we are. That we have poured a disproportionately immense amount of resources into our ability to physically control our world, and not nearly enough study and effort into learning the intangibles. We’re not interested in why things happen, we just want to know how to change them.

Doesn’t anybody get the inkling that there’s a reason why bodies shut down as they do? Why has modern science "advanced" only to the point where it feels ethically bound to interfere in the dying process, whether it should or not? And why does our system keep a heart beating only to warehouse the body somewhere and allow it to die of neglect?

And why does my mother have to suffer through all this arrogant ignorance?

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  1. Were there anything I could say to help you (and your mother) feel any better about this, I would.  I remember, VERY WELL, just how awful the last two weeks of my mother's life was -- in spite of me and my best efforts.

    You are correct ... the why is more important than the how and we are total boobs for not ... knowing it.

    Prayers for your mom.  For whatever it is that she needs right now.  Hugs for you Lisa.

  2. Lisa, I am so so sorry.  

    I just received an email from a friend whose father has just died -- finally and completely -- also after being subjected the the worst that modern medicine has to offer.  The story is so horrific that words desert me.  I will keep your mother in my prayers and hope that she finds a way to depart peacefully in spite of her so-called care.

  3. My sister is a nurse and often tells me "there are worse things than death."  Being on the front lines in the heathcare system....she's seen so much.   I'm so sorry Lisa.  This has got to be a nightmare for you.


  4. One, the candles are lit. Two, you need anything or even if you don't, call me. You and Matt don't have to go through this alone.

    And I couldn't agree more about what passes for health care in this country. And there is a time for every season.

    Take care,


  5. I'm so sorry about your mother, Lisa.

    When my mother had her last stroke in the emergency room, the doctor and nurse looked at me and said; this is normally when we would call a code.  They will come in here and resusitate her and we will start the procedures to keep her alive.  Or we can leave her be.  It is up to you and you alone.

    It was clear what they felt I should do, and I did.  It was what I knew she wanted.  It was the hardest thing I have ever done, or ever hope to do.  But we (she and I) were fortunate to be given the choice.  I think we, as a society, need to get better at taking care of each other.  Then maybe we can get better at letting each other go.

    My heart goes out to you.  I know how wrenching this is.

  6. I'm sorry as well, Lisa.  I've worked on the outer fringes of this "industry" for a long time now.  I can't figure out this driving force to save a life either.  There comes a time for everyone when such measures don't save a "life"; they save a body.  Why?  My heart goes out to you.

  7. Hugs and Love to you...

    I wish there was a reasonable answer for your questions. Unfortunately, I think it's as you stated, arrogance and ignorance, but also simply fear.  We as a race fear death and think any kind of living must be better than death, that which we don't know. But there comes a point where it just isn't so.

  8. I have often wondered why we can build skyscrapers and go to the moon, but cannot learn the skills needed to get along with each other (individuals and especially groups, nations, etc).  Quality of life matters so much.  It probably won't be much comfort, but many people have had to endure what you are going through.
    My thoughts and prayers are with you all.

  9. LISA...


  10. My heart breaks reading this. I agree with everything.  So sorry for your Mom.

  11. We are so afraid of death in this country!  And I include doctors in that statement. I'm sorry your mom, and you and the rest of your family, have to go through this, Lisa.  

  12. I am so sorry. my mother had a pacemaker installed also. It was still going when she died. I think she regretted the decision to have it put in.