Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Heartwarmingly Sad

A wonderful article. Snippets:

"She was no stranger to hospitals over the last few years. She'd wake up to find that her breathing was more difficult, or that some new infection was exploiting her weakened immune system, or that some new debilitating side effect from the powerful drugs that were keeping her alive had emerged. My stepfather would rush her to a hospital, and she would come home a few days later having accepted some previously feared development—being hooked up to an oxygen tank, having to use a walker—as her 'new normal'"

"It wasn't going to be pretty. Her lungs were gradually filling with scar tissue. She would, when her time came, slowly and painfully suffocate to death over a period of hours or days. But eight weeks before she wound up in a sprawling, dung-colored hospital in sprawling, dung-colored Tucson, my mother's doctors had given her two to five years to live. "

"Don't we all want that kind of death? Wouldn't it be wonderful if each of us could enjoy a Hallmark death? Wouldn't it be ideal if each of us passed from this life into the next—aka "the void"—enveloped in the love of good caregivers and under the care of competent "pain management" professionals? But not everyone is so lucky. Some of us have to endure deaths that are gruesome and protracted and excruciatingly painful, deaths that involve pain that cannot be "managed," deaths that our loving caregivers can only stand helplessly by and witness."

"That's what the debate about I-1000 is really all about: your body, your death, your choice. The passage of I-1000 doesn't impose anything on terminally ill people who reject physician-assisted suicide for religious reasons. But the rejection of I-1000 imposes the values of others on terminally ill people who would like to make that choice for themselves, who should have a right to make that choice for themselves."

"And, I'm sorry, but there'snothing about physician-assisted suicide—or, as it should be called, end-of-lifepain management—that precludes the presence of loving caregivers. You can besurrounded by love and have access to the best medical care available and stillconclude—reasonably and rationally—that you would rather not spend the last fewmoments of your life in blinding pain or gasping for breath or pumped full ofjust enough morphine to (hopefully) deaden your pain without deadening you."

"We somehow managed to hold it together, me and my stepfather. We didn't have the luxury of breaking down."

"So it fell to me to walk back into my mother's room, tell her she was going to die, and lay out her rather limited options. She could be put under and put on machines and live for a day or two in a coma, long enough for her other two children to get down to Tucson and say their good-byes, which she wouldn't be able to hear. Or she could live for maybe another six hours if she
continued to wear an oxygen mask that forced air into her lungs with so much force it made her whole body convulse. Or she could take the mask off and suffocate to death. Slowly, painfully, over an hour or two."

"We said our good-byes—doesn't that sound dignified? But her mask was still on and her body still convulsing. Good-byes reduced my affable stepfather to wracking sobs; good-byes sent me and my sister falling to the floor beside our mother's deathbed. We held a phone up to my mother's ear so she could hear one of my brothers shout his good-bye over the whir and thump of the oxygen machine, while we tried desperately to get my other brother on the phone."

"It was a staggering blow, this sudden and unwelcome reminder that tomorrow was coming and my mother wouldn't be part of it,"

"...we sat there, traumatized, waiting for her heart to stop, waiting for the very first sound that I had ever heard—my mother's heart beating—to go silent."

"I know what my mother would say: The same church leaders who can't
manage to keep priests from raping children aren't entitled to micromanage the final moments of our lives."

"Don't approve of abortion? Don't have one. Don't approve of gay marriage? Don't have one. Don't approve of physician-assisted suicide? For Christ's sake, don't have one. But don't tell me I can't have one—each one—because it offends your God.
Fuck your God."

"I also know that, if my mother needed my help, I would've held a glass of water to her lips, so that she could swallow the pills that would've spared her those two hours of agony."

Couldn't agree with his argument more, and his story about his mother is really tearjerking, and thought provoking.


mac said...


I hope if the time comes I will be this brave.

Asylum Seeker said...

Same here. Personally though, I am wondering whether I will have to be in the author's position for my parents, like they were for my grandfather and great grandmother recently (two different sides of the family). Both had lung cancer, both lost their independence, both died at home, where they were able to stay because their children and grandchildren tended to them instead of sending them off to nursing homes. Yet neither had to suffer for very long, it seemed. But, since both of them liked to put on a grin and joke around no matter how bad off they were, it is really hard to say how much pain they may have gone through in whatever struggles they went through to stay alive just a little bit longer.