Tag Archive: Death and Dying


Chopsticks

“Chopsticks,” I murmured to myself. Six months ago, I could use chopsticks so well no one would have known I had medical issues. However, last Friday, I could barely manage to hold and align chopsticks. Everyone looked at me out of the corner of their eye. Smiling embarrassing so, I shifted to laugh it off, “Chopsticks.” Chopsticks wasn’t the word I wanted to use: I wanted to cuss. I wanted to shout, “F**k it” or “God damn it.” However, in the civility of dinner, I muttered, “Chopsticks.”

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Parkinson’s scared me more than cancer. Those words bored through my thinking in late February 2020 and remain persistent now. Unfortunately, nearly every terminal patient who’s taken a stoic stance (remaining in control), there comes the point in time during the disease when you lose control. I remember watching Ted Koppel’s Nightline program when Morris Schwartz (Tuesdays with Morrie) talked to Nightline host Ted Koppel. “Well, Ted, one day soon, someone’s gonna have to wipe my ass. It’s the ultimate sign of dependency. Someone wiping your bottom. But I’m working on it.”

Control. I thought of the word ‘control’ when my Neurologist informed me I moved from Parkinson’s Stage 1 to Parkinson’s Stage 2. In Stage 2, Symptoms start getting worse. Tremor, rigidity, and other movement symptoms affect both sides of the body. One can remain independent, but daily tasks become more difficult. And that’s where I’m at: Life is more difficult, more complicated, and more painful in the ass.

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Nurses spoke of seeing a middle-aged woman who showed up each day, sat at the same table, ate her lunch, sipped some coffee, and left several hours later. After several weeks, speculation centered upon romance – that perhaps a kind doctor struck so profoundly, she returns every day, hoping to meet. Or, may she was hoping to remember. Unless one asked, no one knew the actual reason.

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About Luck

A few hours ago, I found a box of old pictures. The first picture had to be twenty years old and looked like someone else. “Wow, I’ll never be that person again.” Followed by, “Yeah, that person does not have death shadowing my every movement.” Still, when others are seen enjoying activities without reservation, I do not become overly nostalgic. Sure, I once enjoyed running, playing football, or swimming, but I know those I see will one day be like me, someone for whom the bells have either tolled or will toll.

Admittedly, I have thrived where others have not. (Or, I have thrived up to this point.) I could claim that my ability was due to modern medicine or that I was such a physical specimen that my body was bound to overcome anything thrown at it. But the reality is likely to involve a good dose of luck. I hear this all the time when walking the ICU. If one dies, a lack of luck is blamed. “Ma’am, we did our best, but his luck ran out.” If one survives, ‘luck’ is stated differently, “Ma’am, we’re unsure why he survived, but a lot of things worked in his favor.”

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Except for Aleve and Tylenol, this past week has been living medication-free. However, the deceptive nature of living with Parkinson’s, Multiple Sclerosis, Arthritis, and tumors percolate inside. If you look at me, you’d be convinced by how I look like the picture of health. However, there have been nights when I cheated on my vow of medication-free. For example, last night, I had to sleep in my recliner for two two-hour periods due to pain by downing a single tablet of Tylenol #3 (300 mg of Acetaminophen and 60 mg of Codeine). I guess medication-free is not medication-free when one has to sneak in 30 mg of Codeine now and then, but when your body gets to this stage of pain, many will do what they have to do.

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“Excited?” Maria asked as she placed a slice of cake in front of me and sat to my left. “I mean, it’s here. It’s finally here.”  Then, leaning in, “It’s here.”

“Weird. It just feels weird,” I responded while typing ‘execution commands’ on my laptop. I momentarily glanced at the memo taped over the cake, candy, chips, assorted snacks, bottles of sparkling juice, party streamers, ribbons, and helium-filled balloons. 

“COVID Tiger Task Force Deactivation.” the internal memo broadcasted to staffers. The shutdown comes as the pandemic continues. The U.S. will eclipse 610,000 deaths by Summers’ end, while the global death toll currently exceeds 4.1 million. As we approach deactivation, the entire team was focused on ensuring a smooth transition of key members back to normal business operations. Yet, I am unsure what ‘normal’ was anymore.

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There’s a ton of historical NDE experiences, some dating back centuries. Their stories are similar to those told in hundreds of books or websites (including mine). Though details vary across, there are many commonalities, including floating upward, viewing the scene of their death; spending time in a different realm, meeting relatives, feeling God, or something like ‘complete love.’ Once all that occurs, the person is told to return to live another day. For many, the person reports the experience was not a dream but “authentic,” changes profoundly post-NDE, and has a hard time returning into everyday life. 

My recent experience is similar, but not totally. Here’s a recap.

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My body did not experience any significant trauma. There was no earthquake. No carjacking went wrong, nor was I violently assaulted. My condo unit did not collapse, and I was not involved in a car wreck. Neither did I neither fall down the stairs nor overdose. I did not experience a heart attack and didn’t see the ‘light’ during an operation. All I did was fall asleep in a recliner.

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Dying is hard. The body refuses to give up. For others, the physical part of death is not the barrier. Instead, information processing is the hardest culprit. There are too many issues to address before the end. In other words, we run out of time. ‘Death’ grabs us when least expected and refuses to release us. Describing my process is like being in the grip of a boa constrictor.

Boa constrictors are not venomous. Instead, they squeeze the victim to death. The squeezing overwhelms the circulatory system, and the prey dies from ischemia. And therein I lay. I came to the acknowledgment this week that my body is slowly giving way. Life a slow-motion film, the amount of dizziness, the pain just below my rib cage, and the persistent fatigue slowly crept in each subsequent week. I sense it. No. Correction. It squeezes. I feel it. There are some days when I wish to fall asleep and call it a life.

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A few hours before my physician’s appointment, I read Dr. Rebecca Elon’s story on the Kaiser Health News. Living in the age of COVID, she lost her husband, experienced the death of a sister, and watched her mother battle dementia. The geriatrician and policy expert made a striking comment. “Reading about caregiving of this kind was one thing. Experiencing it was entirely different.” Elon’s statement struck so deep that I took the time to not her comment. Thinking Elon’s quote was a worthy citation in a future blog post, I never imagined referencing hours later, just after my doctor’s appointment.

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