Having worked in the medical field, many patients have chosen the quality of life over treatment. That choice can be hard for family and friends, but for the most part, people who can make decisions for themselves have the right to refuse any treatment. The reasons vary. For some, there are associated health problems with treatment. For others, it’s age. Others, it’s a moral decision. And so on.
Coming to the end of life, I had one goal: die in the least objectionable way. Of course, doctors have arsenals loaded with weapons against infirmities of the body. Unfortunately, medicine focuses on longevity, not quality. Need an example? Me. I take 13 different drugs daily, three are required before I’m able to get up change clothes. The rest are ingested via a carefully crafted schedule. As I told my mother, medical technology is terrific, but sooner or later, the body wins.
I’ve often said to my physicians, “We all know I’m going to die. Help me die in dignity.” Therein lay the truth; everyone knows I’m going dying. It’s just a matter of when not if.
During a recent walk with my parent’s dog, Skip trotted ahead. He looked back with sympathetic eyes that could only say, “. . . you look like shit.” Sometimes in my humorous way, I reflect upon Doc Holliday’s witty quip (Wyatt Earp 1994), “I wake up every morning looking in the face of Death, and you know what? He ain’t half bad.”
Why am I deciding now?
During the past 35 years, I’ve not known a day without pain. What I learned from the military, from football, and my ol’ man was to suck it up, take the pain, sacrifice the body for the good of the team, and if required, for the good of the country. I’m aware of the physical toll of that profession as well as the traveling of my business. Throughout years of travel, I fought through pain and injury while simultaneously remaining stoic. I felt breaking through the pain helped proved myself. I accumulated significant damage.
Like many sitting behind their desk right now, I silently “self-medicate” to keep fighting at peak performance. Pills hide the pain from 8 partial ligament tears in my left knee, with 6 in my right. I was partially paralyzed from a spinal injury nearly forty years ago; had bone chips removed from my spine; feet suffer from severe arthritis that sometimes the left foot locks; experienced two concussions; one eardrum tear that requires hearing aids; had a silent heart attack; cracked some ribs; fractured a wrist; suffered a shoulder separation; have cervical stenosis; lumbar osteoarthritis; and now a cervical spinal tumor, and multiple sclerosis.
Andrew Luck, the former first overall draft pick and one of the NFL’s league’s brightest stars, eloquently summarized my thoughts. When questioned this past Saturday about his surprise retirement, Luck stated he could no longer take the years of pain and rehabilitation from a host of injuries.
It was not the first time a professional athlete stepped away during the prime of their career, but Luck was one of the more vivid examples of a player weighing the consequences of continuing a career. His decision to retire didn’t occur in the limelight, in front of a cheering crowd. “I’ve been stuck in this process,” Luck said during his retirement press conference. “I haven’t been able to live the life I want to live. It’s taken the joy out of this game. It’s the hardest decision of my life. But it is the right decision for me.”
I echo the same thought; it’s a hard decision, but it’s the right decision. Thus, that’s where I’m at, stuck for thirty-five years. In truth, I have not lived the way I wanted to live. The decision to choose a treatment or not to choose treatment isn’t easy. My body is tired, and I’m tired. Eventually, technology loses – the body wins. The body always wins. Pain has devoured my body, my mind, and my soul.
All of us, at some time or another, will be at a similar crossroad. At some point, one will have to prioritize their health or personal well-being rather than the good of a team or a company. We have to learn to invest in ourselves.
Categories: Life Lessons