The peculiar problems of modern death — often overly medicalized and unnecessarily prolonged — are no longer abstractions to me. Even though I swim daily and take no medications, somewhere beyond the horizon, my death has saddled his horse and is heading my way. I want a better death than many of those I’ve recently seen.
In this I’m not alone. According to a 2017 Kaiser Foundation study, 7 in 10 Americans hope to die at home. But half die in nursing homes and hospitals, and more than a tenth are cruelly shuttled from one to the other in their final three days. Pain is a major barrier to a peaceful death, and nearly half of dying Americans suffer from uncontrolled pain. Nobody I know hopes to die in the soulless confines of an Intensive Care Unit. But more than a quarter of Medicare members cycle through one in their final month, and a fifth of Americans die in an ICU.
This state of affairs has many causes, among them fear, a culture-wide denial of death, ignorance of medicine’s limits, and a language barrier between medical staff and ordinary people. “They often feel abandoned at their greatest hour of need,” an HMO nurse told me about her many terminally ill patients. “But the oncologists tell us that their patients fire them if they are truthful.”
I don’t want this to be my story.
She tells us to have a vision, understand our health, and make sure we have a tribe and caregivers. Well worth reading and saving.
How to Prepare Yourself for a Good End of Life by Katy Butler