Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Pig in the Python, Part 2: Do-It Yourself Death Panel

My Grandmother Robertson was widowed when she was in her forties, left with five children. She relocated from eastern Kentucky to Dayton, Ohio, where she opened a boarding house, cooking and cleaning for half a dozen strangers so she could feed and shelter her kids.

She was a skinny little woman, fiercely independent, who was still climbing up and down ladders painting ceilings (and doing her own housework, and cooking, and cleaning, and gardening) into her eighties. But when she was eighty-three a series of temporary ischemic attacks, small strokes known as TIA's, shorted out enough of her wiring that she was forced to move to a nursing home.

Over the next few years, recurring TIA's robbed her of her ability to read, to speak and eventually even to recognize anyone.

One night when she was in her early nineties, her heart stopped. By chance an aide found her almost immediately, and resuscitated her. My aunt called me the next day.

"Thank goodness that aide came by," she said, in the tone of one reporting a miracle, "or we would have lost Mom."

But, for me, my feisty grandma had ceased to exist long before.

By the time this brush with death occurred, she spent her days tied into a wheelchair, wearing diapers and eating pre-mushed food because she couldn't remember to chew. She cradled a plastic doll she believed was my Aunt Lorena, the infant she'd lost to whooping cough.

Grandma lived five more years after that, and if she'd been capable of lucid thought, I'm convinced she would have been disgusted that her escape had been foiled.

So what does this have to do with the pig in the python?

Our society is unprepared to deal with the mass of Baby Boomers who will require long-term care. And, although we can't avoid growing old, we can take steps to limit how long we linger, drooling and building up bedsores even as we soak up every available dime from American taxpayers.

After watching what happened with my grandmother, I am determined to avoid sharing her fate. And I'm not asking my daughter to make this decision, because, after seeing my aunt's reaction, I know it's not a fair thing to ask.

Instead, Old Dog and I have set up Living Wills that specify that, in the event something bad happens, no extraordinary means will be taken to keep us alive.

Because I, for one, am not waiting for the Death Panels.


  1. I couldn't agree with you more. This is such an important topic and one so few are willing to talk about. I have had my living will in place for a long time.

  2. I've spent a lot of time in nursing homes with various relatives. that's not for me.

    I'll be taking the long walk, much the way my ancestors did. As soon as it becomes apparent that I will no longer be able to take care of myself. My family is aware of my plan. Whether they believe me or not is not my worry.

    And yes, there's a living will in place in case of an unforeseen event.

  3. Girl, you sure know how to turn a a heart out, shred it into sawdust, and bury it in eternity.

    Please finish your novel so I can read more of your awesome stuff before they find me out and send me to the gas chambers!

  4. Do it yourself death panel..well said..and I agree..hopefully I will be gone before my mind is:)

  5. This is an incredible post. The description of your grandmother as such a lively person and then her terrible decline was really touching.I was talking to my mother the other day. She is struggling with the increased care my grandparents need, particularly my grandmother who has copd. My grandmother's quality of life is getting less and less, but what to do? We are geared towards medicating as much as possible in order to just keep breathing, nevermind the quality of life. It's a difficult topic. Well done to you for being so brave and taking control.

  6. A living will is the kindest thing parents can do for their children, so they don't have to make the heart wrenching decision on their own. Keeping someone alive who is clearly ready to move on is selfish. As we all know, there are many gray areas to the term "alive."

  7. I completely agree, for me it is an easy decision.

  8. My grandmother, thankfully, saved enough over her last years of working to be able to pay for her care right now. Unfortunately, she didn't have a plan. So my mother and my aunt have to convince/strong arm/imform her of what needs to be done. These are not roles they wanted to take on, but she's not all there mentally, and isn't aware of the level of care needed for her situation. My other grandparents have plans, they have already told us, "If this happens, this __ is what we want done." If grandpa passes first, here's what grandma's going to do, and vice versa, their wishes are known. I have NO desire to sacrafice the care of my loved ones for an inheritance. Use all your money!! Go for it! Here's my problem, my mom asked me the other day, after battling with her mom over this and that, "what are you going to do with me when I'm this old?" ARGH!!! Have a plan!! Tell me what YOU want, that's all I ask.

  9. Amen sister!!! There are some things worse then death!

    I jokingly (well kinda) told my DIL with I get to that state let me go play in traffic and let me meet my maker kissin' a Mack truck.

    God bless ya and have a marvelous Monday sweetie!!! :o)

  10. I agree. We hold onto the elderly for ourselves, not for them. If a family member is happy and lucid and enjoying life, then I am happy. To see someone in pain and without any interaction with the outside world sucks beyond all meaning. I have a cousin who is a quadriplegic in a nursing home. I do believe she is holding onto life just to see her future grandchildren...

    It's not an easy choice, but I hope my children are brave enough to follow through on not resuscitating me if I am not capable of lucid thought...

  11. Amen to that! I had similar feelings about my Granddad's end. That was 50 years or so ago. I've had n o reason to change them since.

  12. I agree whole heartedly. There is a point at which a life is not life.


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