If I could attach a 911 red siren alarm to a recommendation on my blog, this would get the flashing light. If you get no other tip from The Geezer Diary, let this be the one. It’s about how you may choose to graduate from the planet.
Wonderful writer, surgeon and general genius of thought, Dr. Atul Gawande, has written another of his gems for the August 2nd issue of the New Yorker. Its title is: Letting Go, What should medicine do when it can’t save your life?
Dr. Gawande tells the stories of very ill people who made very different choices about how they would spend their last months on the planet. He focuses on people who had a good end—peaceful, without pain and with family—and people who died with a pitiful quality of life. Each story is riveting and instructive. What I got from it is that if I get a downer diagnosis, I will get myself into a hospice program as fast as my lame little bod will carry me.
For those who do not know, hospice is now a world-wide program that offers tender loving end-of-life care to people who are graduating from the planet and to their families. (It’s a team effort.)
From what I’ve seen with several dying friends, from hearing the experiences of others and from interviewing hospice staff and volunteers, hospice is the way to go out—not with a bang, not with a whimper—but with some peace of mind about the last great happening of life. Hospice provides pain control, control of symptoms, nursing care, personal care, emotional and spiritual counseling, medical equipment and bereavement counseling.
For my friend, Joan, dying of COPD, having hospice at her home was the way to enjoy her friends and family as she made the next journey. I saw Joan 48 hours before she died. She was looking forward to her evening martini and fell asleep holding my hand after a very pleasant and funny conversation. Joan was so impressed with hospice, she told her friends:
Don’t send flowers, just send money to hospice.
Another friend of mine, S., whose husband used hospice in his final months said that she never again would be afraid of death, so comforting were the hospice counselors. So the benefits of the program extend to family and friends, both before, during and after someone’s departure.
Hospice is free. Regardless of income, the service is available, usually to people whose doctors have given them 6 months or less, though my local hospice has a transitions program for people whose prognosis is one year or less. To find a local hospice, just put the name of your town and the word hospice into the Google search box.
But Dr. Gawande’s article is what you need to read, not this. He talks about this subject so forcefully that when you’ve finished reading, you realize this knowledge can change your life and how you choose to leave it.
Where do I find this article?
August 2, 2010, New Yorker, pages 36 -49. Also currently online at http://tinyurl.com/34k3ymt, but I don’t know how long the magazine displays its current articles. You can surf there now—or get to a library or a magazine stand. As for me, I keep my New Yorker subscription going just for the occasional pieces by Dr. Gwande. (OK…. and for the cartoons.)
I want to end this alert with one surprising point from Dr. Gawande: Some of the people who used hospice, who gave up aggressive treatments and instead focused on staying pain-free and enjoying their remaining time, lived longer than those who were using heroic measures such as repeated chemos, many surgeries and other Hail Mary procedures. As Dr. G says, “The lesson seems almost Zen: you live longer only when you stop trying to live longer.”