Monday, June 29, 2009

Two Strange Questions

It's been a few days since Farrah and Michael have left us and as the media frenzy continues, I have a question.  Having had the unfortunate opportunity to experience both sides of the equation, I do have an opinion, which I will share after the question.
Is it easier to lose a loved one out of the blue, without warning?  Or is it better to watch them slowly fade away, being able to say their goodbyes?
One involves shock and disbelief, the other the opportunity to prepare.  While at that wacky acupuncture school, one of my clinic shifts was at the San Diego Hospice and I had the opportunity to speak with health care professionals, families and patients.  Some were angry, some were sad and some were oblivious.  Opinions varied quite a bit on depending upon medical training, religious beliefs and cultural backgrounds.

Some of the doctors felt that the patients should be made comfortable to the end, but usually not the end of the patient's choosing.  As if being drugged out of one's mind for the last 72 hours, emaciated and in control of very few bodily functions was a graceful way to the depart the planet.

Some families were so unwilling to say goodbye that they considered and implemented treatments that added nothing to the quality of the patient's last days, but added much to the hospital bill, the pain of their loved one and created desperately unhappy memories.

Some patients held on for dear life, one woman was still smoking twelve hours before she died of breast cancer.  Others couldn't leave until all family members were taken care of and they could die in peace.  There was one woman who had her hair done, a mani-pedi and called her family into her room. She told them that she loved them but that they needed to go home so she could get some rest and before they were out of the parking lot she had passed on to the other side.

I've watched someone pass away from cancer at home and seen the toll on the family. As the daughter (also a nurse) said after he passed, she was glad that someone had dug up old video of him when he was healthy because she didn't want her memories to be the last few week on his deathbed.

My father died July 4, 1991 at 5:35 in the morning from a massive heart attack.  He was 60.  While I was watching what passed for fireworks (really nothing more than multi-colored fog with big booms that shook the glass in the skyscrapers) in Santa Monica, he was expiring in an emergency room in Santa Barbara County.  I didn't find out for another thirteen hours and I can honestly say that those were some of the happiest hours of my life.  Not because I was having fun, but because I didn't know.  I got thirteen more hours where he was gone but he was still here.

On the other hand, I've spent the last four years of my life watching my mother disappear before my very eyes.  After the stroke her reasoning skills in regards to her safety have deteriorated at a rate that is unbelievable.  She has become incontinent, sometimes forgets how to swallow but was able to figure out that the "Miniature Killer" had used carbon monoxide by way of the fireplace and occasionally catches the sarcasm behind Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert.  She thinks Bush is an idiot and that Cheney should shut up but will leave the burners on while she washes my ten inch chef's knife with her hand grasping the sharpest part of the blade.  It's frightening to walk in the door and see that.

Given my druthers, I would rather go out like my dad than wither away like my mom.  Yes, it was a shock and I miss him terribly, but at least I miss him and really do remember mainly good times.  With mom there's nothing to miss since her body is still here and every once in a while, her mind joins her but the day in, day out care is grueling and in the end, unrewarding.

Grief shouldn't rob years from the living before you're gone and it shouldn't root others to one sad and inescapable moment in time.  As Jim Morrison so aptly pointed out, no one here gets out alive.

And from the really quirky side of my brain, have you ever been watching recorded television while surfing the internet and when a commercial comes on picked up the mouse to skip the commercials?  I keep doing it and it makes me snicker every time.  I know what runs my life.


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