Monday, 28 December 2009

A good and healthy death

Teaching involves using the material that comes to hand. I will write more knee injuries shortly

My father died on Christmas Eve, on his 92nd Birthday. Yes I am sad, but it is a good and healthy sadness. My brother and I will grieve, but no more than we need to for a man who led a good and healthy life. I could have done more, my brother could have done more. But that is always true. I did what I could and he did what he could, it was better than nothing but of course it could have been better.

Nonetheless, he had a good death. He was 92. Four days earlier he was admitted to hospital after a fall. The Nursing Sister would have sent him home but that it was Christmas and it would have been difficult to get his Carers organised just before Christmas. So she kept him in. Otherwise he would have have been straight back out the door. Nothing to be alarmed about, old man has a fall, otherwise not too bad, get him home as soon as possible.

Day 3 he is not so well. Day 4 he deteriorates and dies quite suddenly, no fuss, just goes quietly. Two weeks before he was shopping on his scooter. He had Carers in three times a day to help him with his meals, get him up and help him to bed, but otherwise looked after himself. It was becoming a struggle, nonetheless from the Sainsbury drivers who delivered his weekly food (when I remembered to order it) and the people in the flats where he lived, he just about managed. Then all his systems failed at once and he died. I spoke to the doctor about what they should put on the death certificate, he suggested "Pulmonary Embolism". In truth he he had had enough, he was just tired but that is not a modern diagnosis.

He was healthy until he died, when his systems failed at once. That I believe is how nature intended. Death when it comes should be quick and painless. Why intend it any other way?

Yet modern diseases, caused by overindulgence, toxins and a failure to maintain our minds and bodies cause one system to fail before another - the kidneys before the lungs before the heart lead to people being prescribed a string of medication to keep sticking bits back on until the motor finally gives out. 

 My mother also died quite suddenly, aged 77. A hemorrhage and within 48 hours she had died. No hanging around, no wasting a moment of her life.

They had healthy deaths. If not necessarily at the time of their choosing, but in a manner of their choosing. No prolonged suffering. Well and mentally sharp, until they go suddenly. My grandparents were the same. Well, up and around, doing what they wanted, until they weren't.

Yet nowhere in the many books on "Palliative Care" will you find a description of a Healthy Death. Medicine has stolen death and in its place we have "Care Pathways" and "End of Life Decisions". A healthy death is as nature intended, sudden, painless and with no time for Goodbyes.

And the moral - It is what you do now that matters, how you treat your friends and relatives in the moment,  not how you behave around a deathbed, that makes life worth living. Overall, I hope, we didn't do too badly by the old man.

Copyright (c) Dr. Liz Miller

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  1. My sincere and heartfelt condolences for what must be a great loss. I am glad you draw comfort from the manner of his departure. I am also sure that both he and your mother will have a lasting memorial in the hearts of those left behind.

  2. Thanks. I don't think he could have hoped for a better death. Healthy and going out on his scooter until days before he died at the age of 92 - I couldn't ask better for myself!