When you ask most people how they want to die, they say Just don’t keep me alive on life support; I don’t want to be a vegetable. Vegetables are offended. (and it’s an unfortunate term for an unconscious human who is likely to never wake up again). I have seven words for you: Too much TV. Not enough real life.
Life support equipment gets a bad rap. It’s not what it is; it’s when it is that makes the critical difference between whether it’s an ally or foe. Not understanding this slice of information can stop an otherwise normal, sane, responsible person from taking critical steps to protect themselves when they are really vulnerable.
When you don’t want to talk about what could happen as we’re approaching death, chances are much higher you may end up with a regrettable mess if there’s an emergency. Regrettable because you could have done something about it. Mess because without clear direction to the contrary, the goal of medicine is to keep you alive at all costs, which will probably involve …… life support equipment.
It’s almost magic that we have machines that can help someone breathe until they can breathe on their own again. It’s amazing that we can restart a heart if it stops, although the truth is percentage-wise, it doesn’t happen all that often or work all that well. All of these technologies are miracles when they are used to help people either recover or sustain a quality of life that they find acceptable, at least for awhile. But “life support” doesn’t come in an “all-or-nothing” package. At any given point in a living or dying process, a little oxygen might be a godsend, even if it’s being supplied to you by a machine.
Two best reasons to start having (light, intermittent) conversations about dying right now: (1) You can prevent a regrettable mess. (2) You’ll start to appreciate every day of your life more. I am not making this up.
THE CONVERSATION PROJECT and NATIONAL HEALTH CARE DECISIONS DAY (April 16) are two incredible resources that promote end-of-life awareness without scaring you to death (so to speak). The old adage – Knowledge is Power – is nowhere truer than here.
Kim Mooney, Thanatologist
Practically Dying LLC
This was originally published on The Moderate Voice.