“Old Age ain’t for Sissies”—Betty Davis


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“Old Age ain’t for Sissies”—Betty Davis

Technology has increased longevity thereby making death even more frightful, expensive, tortuous, and perhaps accumulatively more painful than before. Is this progress?

“Never before in history has it been so hard to fulfill our final earthly task: dying. It used to be that people were "visited" by death. With nothing to fight it, we simply accepted it and grieved. Today, thanks to myriad medications and interventions that have been created to improve our health and prolong our lives, dying has become a difficult and often excruciatingly slow process.” Craig Bowron, Physician

Bowron speaks of a woman who suffers from something that physicians call "the dwindles", which is essential a characteristic of old age in modern times. Three days a week she spends in dialysis so that she can spend the remaining four days of the week recovering; she is miserable seven days a week.

Bowron speaks of another patient who is 91 who lies in his bed helpless with painful swollen arthritic joints after being felled with a stroke.

There are no lifesaving medications in such cases; only life-prolonging pain can be offered.

Bowron informs us that “everyone wants to grow old and die in his or her sleep, but the truth is that most of us will die in pieces. Most will be nibbled to death by piranhas, and the piranhas of senescence are wearing some very dull dentures. It can be a torturously slow process, with an undeniable end, and our instinct shouldn't be to prolong it. If you were to walk by a Tilt-A-Whirl loaded with elderly riders and notice that all of them were dizzy to the point of vomiting, wouldn't your instinct be to turn the ride off? Or at the very least slow it down? Mercy calls for it.”

The good doctor is not speaking about euthanasia or even about the spiraling cost of health care; he is speaking about a sympathetic and rationalized dignity for those who have reached the end of a life worth living.

“In the past, the facade of immortality was claimed by Egyptian kings, egomaniacal monarchs and run-of-the mill psychopaths. But democracy and modern medical advances have made the illusion accessible to everyone. We have to rid ourselves of this distinctly Western notion before our nation's obesity epidemic and the surge of aging baby boomers combine to form a tsunami of infirmity that may well topple our hospital system and wash it out to sea.” Bowron

I think that the good doctor and I agree that there comes a time in life when “the only thing worse than dying is being kept alive”.

Right now I can't think of an argument that trumps 'alive is better than dead, because you can't fix dead.' I have guilt feelings about taking care of a family member who is dying a slow death, but the truth is that I have not made them ill. I am not making them ill. They are just ill, and they are beyond the point where they can communicate, move themselves, make sense of their surroundings, or rationalize away their own fears.

On the positive side, medicine is getting better as is infrastructure. Perhaps retirement can be significantly improved as well as the comfort of the dying.