7 Ways to Plan for a Good End to Life

  • 0

    By Katy Butler

    My parents lived good lives and expected to die good deaths. They exercised daily, ate plenty of fruits and vegetables, and kept, in their well-organized files, boilerplate advance health directives. But when he was 79, my beloved and seemingly vigorous father came up from his basement study, put on the kettle for tea, and had a devastating stroke. For the next 6½ years, my mother and I watched, heartbroken and largely helpless, as he descended into dementia, near-blindness and misery. To make matters worse, a pacemaker, thoughtlessly inserted two years after his stroke, unnecessarily prolonged his worst years on Earth.

    That was a decade ago. Last month I turned 70. The peculiar problems of modern death — often overly medicalized and unnecessarily prolonged — are no longer abstractions to me. Even though I swim daily and take no medications, somewhere beyond the horizon, my death has saddled his horse and is heading my way. I want a better death than many of those I’ve recently seen.

    In this I’m not alone. According to a 2017 Kaiser Foundation study, 7 in 10 Americans hope to die at home. But half die in nursing homes and hospitals, and more than a tenth are cruelly shuttled from one to the other in their final three days. Pain is a major barrier to a peaceful death, and nearly half of dying Americans suffer from uncontrolled pain. Nobody I know hopes to die in the soulless confines of an Intensive Care Unit. But more than a quarter of Medicare members cycle through one in their final month, and a fifth of Americans die in an ICU.

    This state of affairs has many causes, among them fear, a culture-wide denial of death, ignorance of medicine’s limits, and a language barrier between medical staff and ordinary people. “They often feel abandoned at their greatest hour of need,” an HMO nurse told me about her many terminally ill patients. “But the oncologists tell us that their patients fire them if they are truthful.”

    I don’t want this to be my story.

    In the past three years, I’ve interviewed hundreds of people who have witnessed good deaths and hard ones, and I consulted top experts in end-of-life medicine. This is what I learned about how to get the best from our imperfect health care system and how to prepare for a good end of life.

    … Click to read the rest of “How to Prepare Yourself for a Good End of Life” »







close

JOIN OUR MAILING LIST

Want to help empower others to "have the talk"?  Sign up to our email list for important resources and information.

By subscribing you agree to our terms & conditions