Commentary

What The … ?!!

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During the seemingly endless health care reform debate, we heard a lot of scare tactic propaganda about “death panels” and pulling the plug on grandma.
I lost my grandmother in March after months of deteriorating health conditions for her. I cannot oversell how much this woman meant to me or my family. The Davis clan is not the mostly tightly knit group or sentimental tribe, but everyone in my family had a soft spot of love and admiration for the woman I’ve spent my life calling Gram.
And yet, I believe we all thought about pulling the plug on grandma at some point.
During my pre-teen years, I spent a lot of time with Gram. She was loving yet firm and fearless. As I grew up, I watched her husband, my Pa-Pa, grow backwards as Alzheimer’s took hold of him. It was tough, but she took it in stride as he lost his memories, his self control and his ability to take care of himself.
Yet Gram remained vibrant and capable for long years, even after Pa-Pa’s death. She shouldered burdens for the rest of family — often financially, though she never had more than a few hundred dollars in her own savings account.
I’ve never met her equal in generosity or spirit. To meet her was to love her immediately.
But Gram spent the last months of her life in agony as she lost her ability to walk and lost that beautiful mind as she was hit with mini-stroke after mini-stroke and the tumor grew in her lungs. The woman who couldn’t be beaten, who had a kind word for everyone, was broken with pain those last weeks, lashing out at family members for imagined slights.
After she finally passed and I looked at her, Gram hardly resembled the woman I knew. Every last moment of those stretched out agonies was etched into a face that deserved nothing but comfort and joy.
I don’t know what the answer is. I don’t know where the cutoff point is — where you say enough is enough. But I have to believe there’s a better answer than prolonged, brutal suffering in the face of the inevitable.
It’s well past time for our society to start a rational discussion about dying with dignity.

3 Comments

Barbara September 3, 2010 at 2:34 pm

I knew and loved Gram as well. She was amazing. Anyone who has had to watch someone they love suffer they way she did and many others do daily knows the grief that reaches the depths of their souls. As a society we need to be allowed to do what is right by our family members without others dictating our actions. I know what I would want my children to do if or when the time comes for me. I want it to be MY decision. But I also don’t want my children to be burdened with astronomical health care bills either. We need to and have a responsibility to take care of one another while respecting personal choices.

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Tracy September 7, 2010 at 9:06 pm

Sigh. I know the feeling. As a late in life baby, I’ve spent most of my adulthood watching my family deteriorate. My mother at 67 is struggling with the Medicare gap. My granny lived to be 99, but for the last five or six years wasn’t recognizable to us. I don’t know what the answer is either. I don’t like the idea of fining people who can’t afford health insurance, but something needs to be done to regulate the health-care industry. As someone with asthma and depression, I already can’t qualify for an individual policy without it costing me thousands and thousands of dollars. And I’m only 32. That’s just wrong. I don’t even want to go into how many thousands we spent as a family on my granny’s nursing home bills. It’s five or six digits, and it ate up all of my granny’s savings that she worked so hard for and a good portion of my aunt’s. No one can afford to get old anymore.

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