Thursday, July 08, 2010

On matters of life and death


Death mask by Pants


I have been thinking about death a lot lately. I'm not in any great hurry mind, but I don't like to think of it being a long, protracted thing. I've never been ill, so I don't have any experience of medication - well not that kind anyway.

These days you virtually need a degree in pharmacology to have a conversation with a doctor. I only know about this from talking to my mother, who has a habit of reporting verbatim the contents of consultations she has with various health professionals. There are a lot of words ending in 'ine' and 'ol' and 'test' that I don't recognise.

Ma Pants was recently in hospital and shared a room with a nice old lady of 99. This lady had a condition that hampered her circulatory system. In times gone by we might have called this 'slowing down' and accepted it as a natural phase in the end-of-life cycle. But no. The nurses would wake this poor dear up in the morning and make her sit in a chair all day which distressed her deeply. All she wanted to do was get back into bed and go to sleep. The nurses wouldn't allow it. What if she died! The horror. Gone at 99. What a waste!

It distressed Ma Pants and it distressed me too. For the old lady's sake. For Ma Pants's sake. For everyone who is ever at the mercy of a hospital policy's sake. Ma Pants worked out quite quickly that the lady wanted to lie down and die peacefully, in her sleep. Surely she'd earned that right. She was apparently clever enough not to state that desire openly. Talk about a red rag to a bull. You never, ever tell a health professional that you've enjoyed your stay on earth but would like to check out now please. They hate suicides almost as much as they hate the senseless, senseless deaths from motoring accidents. We're talking one-way ticket to involuntary life support. It means they'll keep you alive until you contract something statistically insignificant.

I don't normally think about death unless it happens to someone close. You think about it if a friend or relation has just died. That's natural. You're not supposed to be preoccupied by it all the time. But talk of death, or rather the deceiving of it seems unavoidable if you engage with any media at all. You're either supposed to be fighting off whatever viral enemy presumes to deprive you of the term of your natural life or adhering to some food conglomerate interest's version of an appropriate diet regime. I've never bothered with a healthy lifestyle and I've never been sick.

Which is sort of why I'm worried. I figure if I'm ever going to get sick, it's bound to be when I'm old and senile and unable to deal with the harrowing world of 'ines' and 'ols'. By that stage, anyone who does get sick will be in everyone's bad books because we'll have had twenty or so years of indoctrination about how to avoid illness and so it must be our fault if we succumb. About the worst fate I can imagine is to be 99 and not be allowed to just lay down and die.