After a blackout, our Baby Boomer friend consulted a doctor, who consulted an EKG, which uncovered a broken heart. Our Baby Boomer shook his fist at death and at fate and, in collusion with the medical profession’s divine intervention, a defibrillator device permanently implanted in his chest will convert further fatal arrhythmia to a non-fatal life-giving rhythm.
Old age brings loss, and our current Baby Boomers will go from peak and prime to maintaining.
When our Baby Boomer requested a DNR/DNI armband [do not resuscitate or intubate], his eldest child called this “asinine and selfish,” and the doc (“You’re too young and too healthy”) refused.
Who is ready for death and who isn’t? Who decides and when and by what criterion? Johnny Carson (1925-2005) once joked that the man who swore, “A cigarette will never hurt me!” got run over by a Chesterfield truck.
“I dodged the bullet!” our Baby Boomer said. This was Russian roulette. This time he won. It resembled the TV game show Let’s Make a Deal: “And behind Door #1 is cardiac arrest, Door #2, CVA (stroke and Alzheimer’s, the syndromes of ‘drool and drag’). And behind Door #3, cancer.” According to Atul Gatawande, M.D. in Being Mortal, cancer treatment is a lottery not all will win. We buy time with chemo, that’s all.
It did cross our Baby Boomer’s mind to refuse the implant, but the doctor stood over his hospital bed, posture implying, “You’re in our face now. Want help? Here’s the golden $$ handcuffs. Put ’em on. You came to us, we didn’t come to you. You lost consciousness, hit the floor, broke your glasses.”
Were he to go home (for a chance to think about it), he’d be back in harms’ way. Was this a mistake? “What will happen to us today is completely unknown, as unknown as what will happen at death.” (Pema Chodron, Buddhist monk)
How and when do we exit stage left? “I understood what it was like to be dead. People might miss you, but their lives go on without you.” (writer Paul Theroux) Given the option to die, who does?
When are we supposed to die? How many of us could truly or honestly say, “The world is a better place without me in it.”
“You’re really only very small and life goes on within you and without you.” (George Harrison, 1943-2001)
My Baby Boomer friend asked his family, “Are you okay with this?” Probably not a good time to ask. “Long protracted suffering is apt to exhaust not only the invalid,” Stefan Zweig (1881-1942) wrote, “but the compassion of others.”
He thought, “Were I not an active and contributing member of society (not a leech), what would be the point?”
Malcolm Gladwell wrote, “Work gives life meaning and purpose.” When a former P.O.W. took his own life, he wrote, “There is no reason for my existence. My life is valueless.”
Nursing homes — spooning adults baby food and changing their incontinent diapers — are now called “assisted living” facilities. “Lengthening morbidity” is how A. Gurwitch dubbed that life (I dub it assisted decaying) through extensive expensive medical procedures. Seventy-eight percent of bankruptcies are from medical expenses.
In the Emergency Room a paramedic once questioned the efficacy of resuscitation. And a cartoon once showed a CEO’s receptionist telling the Grim Reaper, “Go right in. He’s not expecting you.”
Elizabeth Ellis is a Baby Boomer with a BA, born in Minneapolis and mother of three grown children. She welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.