Oct 9, 2016

Let Me Die at 75

     I have one grandfather. I used to have two, as is the case with our species, but my paternal grandfather died long before I was even born. On the other hand, my maternal grandfather will, despite the fact that he's already 90, probably die long after I'll be gone thanks to modern medicine. Or modern man's stupidity. It does tend to happen that those two are interchangeable from time to time but let's first talk about medicine.
     As you'd expect from a 90-year-old, he needs a ton of medical attention and alongside copious pills and ointments and glasses and hearing aids and canes he needs on a day to day basis, he also needs regular medical check-ups, one of them being a check-up at the eye doctor which happens once every four to six weeks because his retina is deteriorating and he's seconds away from being as blind as a bat because he's a bazillion years old (nearing one googol really), and guess who gets to take him to the eye doctor every four to six weeks. Yep, that would be me. But despite just wasting away in waiting rooms and doctor's offices for hours on end with my grandfather while I'm telling him where to sit, when to stand up, when to open his left eye, open his right eye, take off his hat, take off his glasses and put them back on as well as showing him to the bathroom, telling him to zip up, opening car doors for him, buckling his seat belt, etc., I don't mind the experience, at least not too much. Why? Because it's been a real eye-opener. Which probably isn't that surprising since I've been spending three to seven hours in an eye doctor's office every four to six weeks for the last three years, but the eyeopening lesson I got there may still be surprising: make sure you die before you're 90. Then again, that too isn't all that surprising either: if you each month saw a small army of seniors all staggering around, bumping into walls and each other, not seeing or hearing anything or anyone, sometimes not even the person who brought them there — you too would have a death wish.  
     My self-destructive inclinations, however, didn't begin to form while sitting next to my grandfather in one of the waiting rooms preceding one of the examination rooms. Yes, they are reinforced each time I'm there, but that's not what prompted them — their origins can be traced back to an article by Ezekiel J. Emanuel.
     In the article I read years ago, the author explains how he hopes to die at 75 because even though the average life expectancy keeps increasing, the quality of life in old age doesn't. Which in layman's terms means that although people get to live longer, chances are you'll spend the last decade(s) of your life blind, deaf, unable to move and even unable to remember how to wipe your own ass, let alone the names of your loved ones. Well, isn't that something to look forward to? If you ask me, it's fucking not, but thanks to modern medicine, we get to  live  exist well past our expiration date and enjoy all that life after the point when we really should've been dead has to offer. Luckily, Emanuel, also a doctor himself, proposes a solution in the article, saying that after a certain age (65) he'll turn down tests and treatments and won't try to prolong his life at all costs, which means he'll refuse bypass surgery, cancer treatments, flu shots and such so he will be able to die which is something our species does, even though we try to trick and convince nature that it's not.
     Thanks to Emanuel and the article, that's something I plan on doing myself and hope to have the strength to go through with when the time comes, because trust me, turning into a old-timer human bumper car dependent of others is not an appealing notion and every four to six weeks, I have plenty of time to ponder over this while watching other daughters and sons and caretakers maneuvre their old-timers around the doctor's office. Despite drowning in seniors, however, someone from the opposite end of the spectrum helped crystallize things for me even further and cement my decision to not pitifully cling
to life until the end of time — a five-year-old.
     I the three years of taking my grandfather to the doctor's for his eye exam, I'd never seen anyone much younger than me in there, so when I noticed a kid accompanied by his father, I took notice.
     "You did great, champ," the father said. "We're gonna go get some ice cream now."
     "Yay, ice cream!" the boy squealed with delight.
     "Yes, first we'll wait for the doctor to give us some papers and then we'll go down to our car, OK?"
     "Come, we have to go through these doors," the father said opening a door for his kid. "Here, sit down on this chair and we'll wait, OK?"
     "OK, dad."
     Soon after that, a grandma came wobbling out of the exam room with a nurse yelling in here ear, "You just go down this hall, ma'am, and out those doors in the end!"
     "No, no, I have to wait for my daughter here, she brought me, I can't leave without her."
     "Mom, I'm right here," said a lady standing ten steps ahead.
     "Yes, ma'am, I know, just keep walking!" said the nurse.
     "But my daughter ..."
     "Mom, I'm right here," said the lady after walking up to the almost blind, almost deaf grandma and taking her by the hand and out the door.
     In that moment my almost blind, almost deaf grandfather turned to me and said: "What?"
     "Nothing, grandpa, I didn't say anything." Make sure you die before you're 90!
     But that little comedy act didn't just bring to mind my death wish yet again, it also provided a stark contrast to the five-year-old being assisted by his father reminding me of how things actually should be and that something clearly is amiss with this upside-down world, that this ghastly imbalance couldn't have always been the norm — and it really wasn't. I could discuss at length how people died much younger in the past or how simple pneumonia used to be an old man's friend, but I'll rather tell you a story.
     There once lived an Indian. He used to be the chief of his tribe but now his son had taken his place as he was old and blind. The tribe no longer was able nor willing to provide for someone who was unable to contribute to the tribe himself and so they left him by a fire and moved on in search for new hunting grounds, leaving the old man behind and alone. When the fire was dying out, wolves started to gather and the old Indian awaited his faith, fully accepting the course of nature. Eventually, the fire died and so did the old man — the wolves ate him. The end.
     Lest you think otherwise, I should tell you that I didn't come up with that story, I read it years ago. It was written by an American writer, Jack London, is entitled The Law of Life and talks about a time long gone when modern medicine — or modern man's stupidity, whichever way you look at it — didn't try to rewrite the most fundamental law of all life in a sad, futile attempt by desperately clinging to existence thus ironically making life lifeless. I, however, love life too much to piss on it like that and follow the clingy norm. How about you — you still want to prolong your life at all costs? Why do I have the feeling that when it comes down to it, more often than not, human stupidity will prevail ...

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