Monday, July 30, 2012

A Warehouse

My oldest dog is nearing the end of his life; in fact, it could happen within a few weeks or even days. He is 16 years old, which is old for a dog. He has trouble walking, his hearing and sight are both bad, he seems scared and helpless when alone and is often incontinent. His co-owner is the real owner and she just can't quite deal with putting him down yet, although she knows that is rapidly becoming the best and most appropriate course of action. I think it is past time but I won't push the issue.

There is a parallel between old people and old dogs. Many elderly humans reach a point in their lives when they have trouble walking, seeing and hearing, are afraid and helpless and are, well, incontinent. We put down dogs but what should we do with the humans? I am NOT advocating treating elderly humans the same way we treat elderly dogs, although that issue has been discussed and people like Dr. Kevorkian practiced a version of that choice with some of his patients. Laws were later passed either allowing or disallowing the practice, usually referred to as assisted suicide.

What we often do is warehouse elderly humans. We put them in nursing homes because we don't have the time, money, patience or energy to take care of them ourselves. We (or Medicare) pay for 'professionals' to deal with those seniors who need constant attention, to try to communicate with them, to assist them with getting around and to help (and clean up after) bodily functions. I wonder if that is really better. Both of my parents spent their last days in a nursing home. My Dad only lasted six weeks there. Despite his nearly constant dementia, I think he knew where he was and decided to just stop living rather than being warehoused. My mother lasted another four years there and was very much aware of her surroundings for three of those years. She was a fighter and never gave up on living, partly because she stubbornly believed she would be able to return to her home some day, but she hated every minute of her warehousing. One of her most profound statements on the subject: "I'm not living, I'm just existing."

Visiting her in the nursing home was a depressing experience, although living there had to be worse. Most residents were barely mobile, many needed help with everything from eating to brushing their teeth to getting dressed to using the toilet. My Mother needed that much help for her last year or two.

My old dog needs that help now and every time I see him I wonder of that is the fate all of us humans eventually face. It is sad and depressing to think about that but it's a bad idea to ignore that possibility. And it’s a good idea to get the most you can out of your life while you are able, if for no other reason than to accumulate good stories to tell the warehouse staff.

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