Extreme nausea announced itself around 9:00 PM Saturday. Granted, it’s not the visitor you want knocking at your door, but arrive it did. “Hey, there. Mind if I come to visit? I’m just gonna find a comfy spot in your brain and batter you for the next 9 hours and make your life a living hell. What ya’ say?” Beneath the sometimes wickedly sarcastic humor and laughter of this blog lay this writer’s mental awareness of the darkness and horror of dying. This past weekend reiterated that I fear the process more than the destination.

By 11:39 AM, I could neither sit, stand nor crawl. So I spent the next hours trying to find a way to exist. Then, finally, after two hours of fighting, paramedics were called. After the initial triage, one medic kneeled next to me, and amid the pain, swirling, vomiting, extreme disorientation, and pouring sweat, I was asked what drugs I had ingested. My first reaction was to say, “Fuck you!”

Of course, I knew it was a question they had to ask. But the humiliation of someone lying in pain, unable to walk or crawl, committing, and producing rivers of sweat was intolerable. Most certainly, the paramedics have seen hundreds of pandemic-related overdoses. Overdose-related cardiac arrests rose sharply during the pandemic, about 123% above average. At one point, overdose-related cardiac arrests were 48.5% above average. My company provided every employee with a NARCAN kit for use with anyone in your home or neighborhood experiencing an opioid overdose. But illicit drugs were not my issue. “None,” I weakly responded. “I have taken no illicit drugs.” The humiliation continued in the Emergency Room.

If you want to see the quality of America’s excellent medical system, visit a local emergency room between 12:00 AM and 6:00 AM on any weekend. Whatever personal distress I was experiencing mattered little to anyone. “What do you have?” asked the front desk staff.

“Male 62, diaphoretic.” (Diaphoretic means drug-induced sweat.)

“Oh. Ok.” the ER staff responded. That’s all it took to officially place the patient on ‘ignore.’ “How’s your night going?”

“Quiet until this call.” the medic responded. “How’s your night?”

“Take a look at the asylum.” she pointed.


Briefly lifting my head, I could see a line of medical castaways. These are the folks politicians only discuss during elections, and medical insurance policies are unavailable. Medical castaways wander the hallways of free clinics or emergencies, hoping for anyone to listen to them, hoping for a procedure or medicine that will assist their pain. Even in my state, two castaways were near the end-stage of life. They should have been in hospice but were either denied hospice coverage or family members made the untenable decision to care for them due to deductible cost(s) or lack of knowledgeable resources. One nearly full-term pregnant woman kept asking her husband, “Please, let’s go. We cannot afford this.” And one triage nurse politely visited several waiting for services. “We can see you in a couple of hours, but we have no open beds here. If you require a room, you’ll need to find another hospital that can admit you. (Finding another hospital entails another ambulance ride, another triage, more costs, and more humiliation.)

There I was, at one of the same hospitals I worked, one of the very places I worked hand-in-hand with clinicians during the COVID epidemic. And I, too, suddenly became very invaluable. I joined the ranks of the castaways. I was finally approached, and without any ER Physician evaluation, the ultimate form of humiliation occurred, “We’re several hours from seeing you. If you require a room, you’ll need to find another hospital that can admit you.”

I dialed Uber, went home, and decided that if I were going to die, I would rather die at home alone than in a world-class medical center that presumed I was a drug addict having a drug-induced reaction.

Throughout this elongated death, I never feared death. I now fear the actual dying process that hundreds of millions will endure. For those worldwide calling humans an advanced society, we’re pretty primitive. We rather dismiss people than assist, reframe an event to fit personal prejudices and we’re certain that particular classes of society want free handouts. The poor are instructed that if they seek healthcare coverage, work for a company that offers it. The promise of “repeal and replace” was sloganized and the proposals offered would have damaged the poor beyond repair. For many politicians the war against poverty is not the goal. It’s to crush the poor.

My own dying process has taught me to maneuver a world never known. I have interacted with patients and caregivers I never knew. Such interactions have forced me to think about genuine compassion, the meaning of life, what truly matters, and the dying process. Current political leaders and news media are focused on stolen documents, an election fraud that never happened, abrasive conversations about rioting and, to some extent, civil war. Almost everyone has forgotten what matters most: People.

In the not too distant I will die. I’ve given up any notion of greatness or being born to save humanity. I am now considered old. And like those in the ER waiting room, the elderly have become political fodder, deemed unproductive, unprofitable, a burden to both state and family. Cambridge anthropologist, Dr. Leach, once stated at a conference, “‘In a changing world, everyone over fifty-five should be scrapped.’”

An old Zen master once pointed out, the leaves don’t go back on the tree. Thea leaves of Fall are replaced by leaves of Spring, separate, but equal, and interconnected. All of us are beings of beauty and promise:

There is only one solution if old age is not to be an absurd parody of our former life, and that is to go on pursuing ends that give our existence a meaning — devotion to individuals. In old age we should wish still to have passions strong enough to prevent us turning in on ourselves. One’s life has value so long as one attributes value to the life of others, whether by love, friendship, or compassion.