Oftentimes we choose badly. We barter on for the best opportunity to continue whatever morsel of time: strength, mental acuity and a life previously known just several weeks before. It is fantasy mind you. Yet we barter it all, even with the risk of a prolonged and terrible death–which is precisely what most will get.
Technically, the operation this old man received was a success. And two weeks later, the 88-year-old man and his 82-year-old wife, sat in the vascular surgeon’s office to hear the prognosis.
“Wow,” said Doctor S. “The stent looks great. The ultrasound shows the artery is wide open.”
The wife smiled. The man grunted.
“We’ll see you in two months.”
The stroke was significant, and he never recovered. In skilled nursing, the old man could barely remember why he was there; he spoke his son’s name when shown a picture of his dog; he neither say his wife’s name nor his son’s; and looked frail.
That old man is my father.
As I tried to explain to my mother, he could not be cured. Deep down, she knew there was not a cure. But admitting as much and assisting him was beyond her capability. Maybe, just maybe, that stent operation would produce a ‘miracle.’
Death, of course, is not a failure. It’s normal. Throughout the last decade, I repeatedly told my mother that modern scientific and medical marvels can significantly alter the course of human life. We can now push the final moment of many diseases farther outward. People can live longer than any time in history. In doing so, we hide the deeper reality, that such significant extensions do not come without cost. Eventually, the end makes itself known, whether it be in the lungs, brain, spine, kidneys, or heart. From there, there is no cure.
We left the doctor’s office this past Thursday knowing we’d never see dad at home again. Instinctively, my father knew he would never see his favorite lap companion (his dog) and spend Sunday’s petting while simultaneously watching Tiger Woods try for another victory. And, I wondered in the past few nights whether my mother’s ‘miracle was more for her or for my father. She always believed dad was the outlier, the guy who’d have a major injury at ninety and by ninety-one, climb the Himalayas’. Giving up meant giving up the life they built. Now, could either endure.
How did America become a world where we either have to go down with the ship or cede complete control of our life to live in a nursing home? Television is filled with young doctors performing endless miracles. We perform medical procedures (like stents), pat ourselves on the back and dish off our elderly into some unknown distant nursing home.
The reality is that most suffer alone. We depend upon nature and chance. Maybe we toss in a few overly quoted scriptures and beg for a miracle. Instead, society knowingly banishes people to Medicare/Medicaid with little options … too poor … too frail … too senile … or too broken down.
I studied my father for one last moment. “Welcome to your future bitch,” life responded.
Categories: Life Lessons