The Hard Questions

Aug 29, 2018

Chinese philosophers discuss death and dying
Credit Wikimedia Commons / New York Public Library

Hi, Radio Readers – I’m Melany Wilks talking to you from my home in Colby, KS.

I had been told by a friend to read the book, Being Mortal, by Atul Gawande. So, on a long drive 16 - hour drive with my husband, we popped the CD’s into the stereo and began listening. The book held our attention, and then we purchased the book.

As I enter into this discussion, you need to know that I have had a mother and sister die of cancer. Each with a different disease and set of circumstances. These two, plus three others I buried in a five-year period. So, as I listened to this book, it really hit home personally.

When Dr. Gawande says that, “Death is normal. . . [and that] it is also the normal order of things.” (p. 8), -- he’s right. He challenges us to rethink medical care for the dying and elderly. For the medical profession, safety for the individual is paramount, rather than allowing someone to function on a lower level of ability while living a meaningful life (p. 108 and 136).

My husband and I learned that there are three things that will facilitate a fall faster than anything, as we age. 1)Poor balance, 2) Taking 4 prescriptions or more and 3) Muscle weakness (p. 40). We have recently started an exercise and weight training effort to sustain and improve two of the three items on this list. We found that our walking and aerobics was not getting us where we needed to be. So, we took his advice to heart. We do not want to wait to address these issues until we are sick or dying. When sickness and dying come, then we will walk that road.

I’ve seen the true importance of a geriatrics specialist. We believed my mother-in-law was showing signs of Alzheimer’s, along with some other physical problems. We did have her see a physician specializing in geriatrics. Not only did we get some prognosis on the Alzheimer’s, we also saw some ongoing medical issues resolved.

We learned that a palliative care professional help you to grapple with a long-term diagnosis or end of life issue that will help you identify and carry out your goals: symptom relief, counseling, spiritual comfort, in order to enhance your quality of life. Palliative care can also help you to understand all of your treatment options (p. 41).

Looking back, when my sister and mother passed away, the palliative and end of life questions were very limited. It was basically, do you want to die

in a rest home or at home? I thought hospice did a good job helping with pain management and communication with the medical staff and physicians.

Gawande wants us to ask 4 questions that can lead to a meaningful conversation. The answers to these questions will bring clarity to the living and dying process.

  1. What do you understand about where you are with your health
  2. What are you willing to go through and not willing to go through for the sake of more time?
  3. What are your fears and concerns about what is ahead of you with your health?
  4. What is the minimum quality of life you find acceptable?

The author brings story after story, to help drive the results of answering these questions home.

I loved the story of the elderly man who was asked, “What is the minimum quality of life you find acceptable?” He said if I can watch football and eat chocolate ice cream that is good enough for me!

What is my minimum? First, I hope to remember to write some notes of love and hope to those I love and cherish! I’d love beautiful music playing or someone reading to me scriptures of a loving God or listening to a good book. I’d love to sit outside in the morning listening to the birds with a hot cup of coffee each morning. I’d love to enjoy a simple bowl of vanilla ice cream or warm chocolate cookie daily. I’d love to have my cat and dog nearby. But, most of all, friends and loved ones all around.