Deciding To How To End Our Lives. The Final Slide!
Not yours, but your mom and dad’s.
One of the biggest decision making situations facing the baby boomers is how to handle mom and dad as they come to their final days, and in many cases, a long number of final days. But there is one thing that should be figured out…
It is which of two basic routes are going to be chosen: (1) “hospice or (2) hospitalization.
It is not a difficult decision if you take the time to put yourself in this space. I have seen my mother and her husband go from being vibrant 90 year olds, to being perky 96 year olds, and then to having the wheels slowly come off.
It is easy to be in denial and to sort of not think about this or to tell yourself you’ll be like the indian chief who goes out to sit on a rock and die. So the whole thing is no big deal. But it is a big deal until you really nail it down, because neither you nor your parents are going to go out and sit on that rock.
Hospice means that the choice you make is not to extend life, but to make the last days as absolutely comfortable as possible. It is a wonderful organization. They have all of the latest pain medications which keep you ahead of the pain curve for anything you might have. My mom has a melanoma of the eye and simply said to herself, “What’s the point of surgery and that ordeal?” Her attitude is that old age is fine. Real old age is not recommended. Why does she say this? Because as your strength, balance, and control of bodily functions go, life is tough. You will need a keen sense of humor. She chose hospice because in her words, “There is nothing to be gained by living any longer. It just prolongs difficult conditions.” We even laughed one night as we were watching the PBS special on Dignitas, the Swiss based organization that helps people with assisted suicide. The case being presented was someone with an awful disease who had nothing but agony facing him. Mom looked at the man drinking his lethal brew, and said, “ I’m too chicken.”
In the very final days of her husband’s life last year hospice was there full time. They provided physical assistance, administered comforting pain medications and assured comfort.
Hospitalization is the default route. If you make no decision to use hospice, it is what will happen. You will at some moment be rushed to the hospital and placed on life support systems. You will be stuck countless times for blood test draws, and whatever other tests are required. You may be put on ventilators or other life support equipment. In any case this will be more of an ordeal than anything else. And even if you make it, you will be returned your care home only to await the next round.
The mandate on the hospitalization choice is to prolong life with all of the resources modern medicine can bring, and they can bring a great deal. The hospital is where a doctor often feels the most comfortable because he or she knows you will be maintained. But is it really what you want? I see that allowing life to run its natural course with all of the ease that medicine’s pain killing arsenal can provide will be the route I take when my turn comes.
The good news is that the costs of hospice are also covered by Medicare. This entire situation is not something we think about much, but by having done so it is one decision making exercise that will be a relief, guaranteed!