9.30am and I’ve already read a couple articles about death as a medical failure.
The thing is, the great authorities: professionals, doctors and surgeons who do such an amazing and laudable job to protect, cure and save us, also just find it very, very hard to let go. Maybe almost as hard as we do.
And so, ironically, maybe get in the way of a good death.The thing is, we now live longer and healthier than ever before in history. Fewer people live in a natural state all the way. You only have to check out Graham Norton’s couch to see the sad sight of beautiful women wearing faces that belie their age strapped into shape defining, painful looking clothes, propped and bound, poker-straight, long shiny legs carefully posed hanging desperately onto their jobs and their youth… as opposed to the crumpled heaps of guys, draped over the couch, legs akimbo, happily ruffled, bellies seeping over belts, age running amock.
And this lack of ability to face mortality takes its toll in many ways.
The medical world is unprepared to face mortality just as much as we are. Hence, the notion of death as a medical failure… it’s what happens when all options run out or cures don’t work, rather than it’s the natural endpoint.
And what a tragedy that it still shocks the bejesus out of all of us when death occurs.
In my folks’ heyday, the post-war period, deaths happened at home. Just part of everyday life. Families did the soft, quiet vigil. Women in the community did the tending and the pulling of the curtains. The community joined the mourning.
Within a heartbeat – well, a single generation; by my heyday in the 80s fewer than 1 in 5 deaths happen at home… and even those are usually because things take a turn for the worse, happen fast, before family can get help from the professionals. Now, someone fails and we leap for the phone rather than put on the kettle. No wonder our health and care services are on their knees. We expect hospitals and nursing homes to manage our dying as well as our living.
So a plea. Make it easier on yourself and the medics. Try and get to grips with the fact that we can’t live forever and that a good death might be one that you ‘own’ a little more. I’ve never heard anyone say that being more hands-0n and involved in planning, caring and facing up to death made the finale any worse and I’ve heard how it can help immeasurably with acceptance and moving on.
Need convincing? Rather get a second opinion? From a doctor? Read Atul Gawande’s wonderfully readable Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End.
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