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Should we be afraid of the dark?

March 15, 2009|By LLOYD "PETE" WATERS

As the old man sat quietly in the corner of the nursing home, I watched as he stared endlessly out the window. Not saying a word, he was apparently visiting another place.

He was not able to communicate his whereabouts, either because the medication had numbed his faculties or his years of travel had taken a heavy toll on his body and memory.

Sadly, his medical condition was deteriorating, but the medicines and medical treatments were keeping him alive. Quality of life is seldom mentioned in medical treatment planning.

Recently, I read an article entitled "The Dying of the Light" in The Washington Post. It was written by Craig Bowron, who is a physician in a large hospital in Minneapolis. The writer shared many of his experiences as a doctor.

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On the one hand, his life as a doctor seemed most rewarding. He referred to some of those situations and how he had helped young, sick or injured people mend and return to a useful lifestyle.

However, Dr. Bowron shared another growing dilemma.

As more of the doctor's patients become older and older, it seemed to him that the established medical treatment is designed to keep the patient alive at all costs.

Although these costs may drain a family's resources as well as the government's Medicaid account, those are not the important issues here.

One patient described in this most interesting article was that of an 85-year-old lady who was suffering from several medical problems.

Part of one leg had been amputated, her blood pressure was low, her appetite was gone, she felt exhausted and weak and the toes on her remaining foot had gangrene present.

Dialysis was the only procedure which might extend her life.

She now spends three days a week in dialysis according to the article and the other four days recovering.

Although her life has been extended by dialysis, the result actually serves to extend much of her misery.

The family has elected to keep her alive by all possible means.

Quality of life is often not a consideration for a family making decisions for a loved one.

Another story tells of a 91-year-old man, some 230 pounds, who has experienced some dementia, suffered a debilitating stroke that has paralyzed his right side and caused him to be bedridden. His joints are swollen and plagued with painful arthritis.

The quality of life has slowly departed from this gentleman, his strength has been robbed and his remaining limbs have become useless.

Extending his life through extensive medical intervention will also extend his suffering.

The doctor seems to be communicating a growing dilemma facing him, his peers, the patient and those family members who must often make difficult decisions.

Dr. Bowron was not speaking to the reader about euthanasia; he was not talking to us about the escalating medical costs to keep people alive.

Instead he leaves the reader with this simple thought ... "It's about the gift of life and death ... it's about living life and death with dignity and letting go."

He concludes his very well written piece with this wise observation ... "At some point in life, the only thing worse than dying is being kept alive ... "

My own conclusion ... well, I don't think any of us should be afraid of the dark.

Lloyd "Pete" Waters is a Sharpsburg-area resident who writes for The Herald-Mail.

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