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Notes from a Crusty Seeker

Compassionate Death

It's 8:12 a.m. As I type, my body clock is confused but slowly readjusting to not lurching out of bed at 5:30 a.m. with my almost-16-year-old dog who would need to pee because she was getting daily IV saline drips for old-age kidney disease, to not timing everything from 5:30 a.m. on to her meds and pee and sun-downing blind frenzy that began each day around 5:00 p.m., to not really sleeping for the 15 months of her hospice care.


I do not regret one second of this exhausting schedule. It was an honor and what I wanted to do. The pandemic actually made my life easier—more acceptable. It was just Maya and me for the last year+ and I cherished every minute of it.


But Monday night, she let it be known she was done, and Tuesday morning Wendy McCulloch, DVM (Pet Requiem, LLC) came to the apartment, listened to my explanation about Maya's condition, and was an invisible angel, barely rousing Maya, who had uncharacteristically chosen to go back to bed after our early-morning ablutions, and sent my girl on her way. It was as peaceful and smooth a transition as I could imagine.


I'm being similarly gentle with my own transition to a solo life but I found myself twice yesterday declaring to people that I want the same treatment that I and Dr. McCulloch gave to Maya. And suddenly it seems very necessary to declare it in a public forum.


I am about to turn 71 years old and am in great shape due to daily exercise, a vegan diet, and my four flights of stairs; I can carry 30 pounds of groceries up them without panting. I am vaccinated and boosted because to me that seems like a no brainer, but since a debacle in 2012 that I will explain in a minute, I stopped going to doctors and have opted out of the regular preventive checkups relentlessly pushed by my ever-phoning health carrier, and since I think my medical care is my own business, I have refused to get into a conversation to explain myself to them.


I will now explain myself:


Maya is not my first caretaking experience. My mother died of leukemia and emphysema in 1990, laid out on an ICU table connected to a ventilator and tubes in every orifice, surrounded by beeping, whooshing machines. It was a nightmare orchestrated by what I can only believe was her willful "gaff" of not conveying the living will she had done from one doctor to the one who ultimately oversaw her barbaric death.


Before this, I accompanied her to an endless stream of doctors' appointments—radiation, all kinds of probes and injections, you get the picture.


"She's a fighter," it is said of people like my mother. "What a will to live!" To many this is considered heroic.


I am not a hero. I have no desire to spend my days going to doctors in a fight for more time that will ultimately end in me leaving this body, as we all do.


I have had very little faith in doctors in the American medical system since a completely unnecessary biopsy (see About My Left Breast) the day of Super Storm Sandy, charges for which continued to come long after I published the linked blog due to the fact that, unbeknownst to me, doctors who attended were not on my plan, and I suspect (there is absolutely no way of verifying this) the whole thing happened with such dedicated counsel from the breast surgeon because, since volunteering for a breast cancer study, my patient name and information are permanently tagged for report back to said study; I believe that is the only reason I was pushed into this nightmare.


And before this, almost every checkup I diligently went for ended in more unnecessary probing, radiating, and searching for things that were not there. I am not exaggerating—every single visit started a cascade of this stuff.


I'm done with this.


So my choice is that if I get cancer, I'll let it take me. If I have a heart attack, I hope my departure is quick. However my end comes, I intend to welcome it and ask for palliative care only if I have that option.


I'm not depressed. Certainly not suicidal. This is a clear, informed choice.


By the way, I recently read a wonderful memoir by Amy Bloom, In Love: A Memoir of Love and Loss, about finding compassionate euthanasia for her husband who opted out of a slow good-bye from Alzheimer's.


It is time to change our thoughts about death and allow those of us who feel the way I do the freedom to choose what we want. For me, that is nothing less than what I gave my beloved girl Maya.







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