Saturday, July 14, 2018

Thoughts On Death

Now that is a depressing title for a blog entry isn't it?  But that's what I've been thinking about lately.

At seventy-six years of age, I know My Time is closer now that my retirement age was when I started my adult work life. 

Who knows? Maybe I have another good twenty-five years left. God, think about that. I would be a grizzled, old, shrunken up prune of a man not that I'm not almost there now.

Every morning when I roll out of bed my body is stiff with dull arthritic pain. I almost always wake up with cramps in my lower legs. 

My throat is full of phlegm from my overnight post nasal drip down the back of my throat.

For the past past this phlegm problem has progressively gotten worse, so much so that I spend much of the day just trying to clear this phlegm out of my throat. I'm hesitant to go to the doctor because I fear he/she will make it worse by giving me some prescription which has horrific side effects. I remember last year when my friend Lar mentioned he had a slight cold to his doctor and the doctor prescribed a medication that sent Lar to the hospital with uncontrollable diarrhea. Lar trailed poop on the floor like a snail while he was in the emergency room. Once in the hospital he spent a goodly amount of time propped on a bedpan. Oh yes, that's where I want to go.  I have enough doctor's appointments coming up anyway.

These past two weeks were like a vacation. Neither Bill or I had doctors' appointments. However, we do next week.  Bill at the VA Outpatient Clinic in Georgetown for blood work and my annual visit to my cardiologist to check the progress (or regress) of my defective heart valve. Back to our "normal" routine for two old guys, checking the chassis to keep the Old Car running a little longer.

This past week I just finished reading a book "How We Die." A very informative and enlightening book. 

I highly recommend this book. Easy to read and answers a lot of questions I had. Questions I wanted to know before My Turn comes, and we all do get our turn folks. No one gets out of this life alive.

One myth it dispels right off the bat is that most of us will not die an easy death. 

Sure, we all would like to die a nice dignified and comfortable death, preferably in our sleep. Dr. Nuland, the writer of this book says that isn't the way most of us will die. He says we will die in distress, discomfort and without dignity. Not something we prefer to hear but this is the reality that awaits us. 

I test this theory I think of the deaths of my family members, friends and former co-workers. I cannot think of one right now who died an "easy death."  My former co-workers (both younger than me) Penny an Anne Marie, died of breast cancer, after horrifying round of chemo.

My Army buddy Sal died of lung cancer. The last time I talked to him he was in excruciating pain. My father died of lung cancer, his pain lessened by a morphine drip.

My friends Ed and Al both died of liver cancer. Both in a great deal of stress and discomfort but both at their homes, which they insisted on. My friend Wayne "The Cajun" died from a rare blood disease. He wanted to go to a home to die but no one would take him. He died among strangers in a hospice.  Wayne, who loved to hug everyone, died alone.

My very good friend Bob McC. died of Parkinson's disease, locked up in a "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" facility nearby which he frequently tried to break out of. We often talked when we were younger, that we would never let something like "that" happened to us. It happened to Bob. He couldn't even talk in the end. He just grunted. I always wondered if his mind was working, trapped in a body that he could not use his vocal chords.

I know how all of my ten Tipton uncles died, not one of them died peacefully. One burned to death in an accident (after surviving World War II as a prisoner of war, escaped twice and recaptured), two died of brain cancer, another of colon cancer, Uncle Dude died of neck cancer, and another of stomach cancer, yet another two died of heart failure, and Uncle Ray fell off a roof, causing permanent brain damage and ended his days in a nursing care facility. Not one of my ten Tipton uncles died an easy death. 

Now just to balance all those depressing statistics; two cousins of mine; one on each side of my family tree; died in their sleep. Cousin Randy died unexpectedly in his sleep as did cousin Hester. Both were not ill and both relatively young (50's ad 60's).  But I remember what Randy's wife said to me after he died: "Ronnie, Randy always wanted to die in his sleep. He didn't want to go like his mom (who was in a dementia unit facility for seven years), but it's still too soon."  

And that reminds me, my and cousin Randy's uncle George (my Mother's brother) died one day after he retired. He was mowing his lawn and a bee stung him in his throat causing an allergic reaction. George had the misfortune to get stung on a July Fourth weekend when the regular doctors were away on holiday. He died two days later in the hospital, swollen up like a balloon an unable to talk. Poor uncle George, a bachelor all his life who lived with Grandpop (who was not an easy man to live with and who only died the previous year), only had part of one day's retirement to enjoy.

Now understand, I don't fear death. What does concern me though is how I get there.  And the closer I get to My Time, the more concerned with how I get there.

I don't want to be hooked up to a lot of machines in the hospital to buy a few more weeks of life. At seventy-seven years on this planet I'm one of the lucky ones. I'm living on Gravy Time now. Every day I have is a bonus, the way I look at it even though my body is carries the daily pain of arthritis and I sometimes feel like I'm choking on my own phlegm.  

Eventually this old body is going to give out despite how well I've taken care of it over the past seventy-seven years.  I've often used the analogy of comparing a car to a human body. No mater how good you take care of your car it's going to wear out eventually,  Unless of course you have it in museum and never drive it. I drive my body every day. 

Delaware doesn't have a right to die law, yet. I doubt if it will in my lifetime. We're a pretty progressive state but we still have a goodly of lawmakers who are very reticent to change the status quo.  We put animals out of their misery but we don't people. If I get some God awful disease like brain cancer I'll just sell everything and move to one of those states that permit a person to choose when to leave this life. As I said before, I'm living on Gravy Time now. I've had a good life.  Sure, a few bumps along the way but really a fabulous life. And right now in my life have two wonderful men who bring me much happiness and contentment. I hope I do the same for them.

There were a few things I wanted to accomplish before I make my final curtain bow. I wanted to upload all my old videos (VHS and 8mm film transferred to VHS) to You Tube. I completed that task this week.  What a relief.

I still have hundreds perhaps thousands of photos and videos I have to upload of my iMac. However, I doubt if anyone would want to see those photos and videos after I'm gone. Why would they? They are only of interest to me. No one in my family is interested in them. Except for some family reunion photos that some members of my family would like to see, all of the rest of my images will probably be discarded after I'm put in the ground.

I remember a box of old photos that was sitting on the floor in the vault of one of the banks I worked for. I asked the trust administrator whose photos they were.  He said "They belonged to Miss So and So's estate. No one wanted them. Throw them out."   I looked at the photos, of which there were about sixty.  All in good condition and interesting images of people I did not know. People whose image was captured forever now to be discarded  because the only thing this maiden aunt's family wanted was the modest amount of money she had saved over her lifetime. Of course I didn't throw them out. I researched and found a distant cousin who was "somewhat" interested in the photos and I gave them to her. She's also a maiden aunt so who knows?  When she dies maybe those photos will eventually end up in the trash but I at least secured a reprieve for a few more years of those precious old memories that would be lost forever.

I have man old original photos which I am certain will be trashed when I'm gone. Some are my Mothers which I rescued before she burned them. Towards the end of her life she was burning a lot of memories including her high school autograph book and letters. I managed to rescue one letter before she tossed it into the burn barrel flames. I wasn't so fortunate in saving her high school autograph book.  I asked her why she was destroying those things.  She said" "No one wants them after I'm dead. They were only for me.  And I guess she's right folks, my photos and videos and yes, letters are only for me.  And I have journals too. I would like to be around when someone starts reading THEM.  Maybe I'll have the administrator of my estate destroy them. I doubt if my journals would be of interest to anyone else like Samuel Pepys diaries. Only of interest to me folks. And I have to admit when I read some of my journals that I wrote in the 70's, they sound like another Ron wrote them. Not this Ron. Who was that guy?

There is a date out there that is my date of death. I do not know what it is (of course) but it's there. Someone will go into my family tree in the future and record my date of death as I do for family members now. Someone someday in the future will look at that date of death and have no idea of how I died. Was I a blubbering, senile, demented old man soiling myself in a nursing care facility when my lights went out? Or did I die a sudden, quick violent death like an auto accident or other accident?

Several times in my life I have dodged death. The first being when I contacted a staph infection from a botched and unnecessary hernia operation when I was seventeen years old. I got the infection which my doctor failed to diagnose (he said my pain was "all in his head") and ended up in the quarantined contagion unit of the hospital. I was in and out of that hospital for six months and three operations. It was just by luck I didn't die of sepsis like my cousin Charlene who also contacted a staph infection from a hospital visit.

I've survived several automobile accidents, the first being when I was eight years old when our 35 Packard was hit broadside and our care did a 180.  Just shook up. I was again hit broadside when I was 21 years old and had just picked up my newly purchased used car that stalled on me as I was making a U-turn. Again, no injuries. And the nearest miss was when I was traveling back to Ft. Devens after a weekend pass and everybody, including the driver of the car, was sleeping when we almost rammed into a bridge abutment. I happened to wake up just in time to scream "WATCH OUT!  Apparently it wasn't My Time yet.

Then in later years I have survived a bout with prostate cancer.  Also kidney stones which has resulted in seven visits to the emergency room and three operations to remove kidneys stones. I have to tell you folks, on one of those "visits" I wish I had died, I was in that much pain. I wanted to go. But here I am, blathering away about this depressing subject, death.

I don't know when I will die or how I will die. But one thing is for certain, I will die. I'm just hoping it's not to ugly or painful and I can depart with a measure of dignity. 

That's not asking for much is it? 


Travel said...

The end of life is one of the issues I do research on, that is a well written book. If you want to go your way, and not hooked up to machines and enduring treatments to squeeze another month, week, day or hour out of the body, you need to name a health care surrogate in writing who will honor your wishes and you need to let all - everyone - of your family members know what your personal values are. You may need to have someone ask for hospice (in home hospice care is very common and very good in most areas.) . You need caregivers with the strength to honor your wishes and not dial 911 at the slightest sign of distress. I could go on, you know how I get when I am on a roll.

Two great books:How to Say It to Seniors: Closing the Communication Gap with Our Elders
David Solie, andExtreme Measures: Finding a Better Path to the End of Life
Jessica Nutik Zitter.

David Solie describes what you are doing with the photos and videos as legacy building. Legacy is not about money, it is about how we want to be remembered.

Dr. Zitter talks about the cultural factors that interfere with a better death, and how to confront them.

Two of the best books I have read in the past couple of years.

Ron said...

Thank you very much for the book references. I will order them from my Amazon account. This is a subject which I am very interested in. Thanks again for your advice and comment.

Larry Meredith said...


Nice to have that rather humiliating instance rehashed. Of course, it began similar to your problem, a annoying sinus. As soon as I mentioned it the doctor sent out a prescription for an antibiotic. He didn't consider the possibility this could cause C-Diff, but it did. Four bouts of it with two extended hospital stays. The embarrassment in the waiting room could of been avoided if the hospital hadn't hidden the restrooms off in some side side alcove. I couldn't find the men's room and I could stop the flow, so to speak. I will say it got me in to a doctor rather quickly after that. This was one way not to spend hours waiting around in the emergency area.


Ron said...

I know your experience wasn't good for you but it was for me because it warned me not to go to a doctor for my condition. Too often they make the situation worse. I definitely don't want to go through the humiliating situation you went through. I've had enough humiliating experiences at the hospital and doctors' offices to last me a lifetime. Dragging a snail line of poop behind me from the emergency room to the bathroom is one I definitely do not want. I already have enough problems with timing my bowel movements with my daily activity so I'm not "caught" in a "situation".

Anonymous said...

Ron, I am five years older than you. My body is not what it was. My mind (and yours I think) works very well. So I accept the first and manage it as best I can. The second I focus on and use to best advantage (publishing books and articles). Death will come when it does. Nothing I can do about that, so I concentrate on living. Roderick

pat888 said...

Hey Ron - what a SUPER and super long blog. Trust me - I'm getting the better deal on having come to know you. And my crystal balI foresees a good 25 years ahead for you. And then you will go sometime after I've gone!! It's reflecting on matters like this which stirs in us an appreciation for life and all it offers.


Linda said...

Very insightful and true. Who wouldn't want to die in their own bed on their own terms. I think watching movies or television mostly had scenes of people dying easily in their bed, with the family or friends around and saying something profound at the end of their life. However, most of us will probably go as you said in your comments.

Thank you for the recommendation of the book. I am glad you finished the transfer of your films. I need to that too. What was the name of the company you used. I think you mentioned it before, I should have wrote it down.

Ron said...

Hi Linda,
The name and address of the company who transferred my VHS videos to a flash drive is: Lotus Media, 4304 Lake Washington Blvd SE, Bellevue, WA 989006. I was very satisfied with the job they did. They were a LOT cheaper than local facility which sends the tapes to India. I did not want my tapes to go out of this country. You'll feel so relieved when you get your old VHS tapes on a flash drive. Good luck!

Ron said...

We all have a date with the Grim Reaper in the future, that is for sure. We just don't know that date. I've been surprised in the past at how many people I thought would outlive me are gone. I feel like I'm playing musical chairs. Frankly, I'm surprised I lasted this long. Hey, don't say you'll go first. Who would go with me on my trips to California? I hope we both live a long, long time Pat and when Out Time comes,it is a peaceful passing.

Ron said...

Thank you for your comment. You are right, death will come when it does. We all have that date. I value each day I have now. Even more so than I did when I was younger and took endless days for granted.

Anonymous said...

I am back, because I want to tell you, very firmly, that your diaries, videos, and photos, far from being of no interest, will be indispensable and fascinating to historians in future years when they are researching the lives of gay men during the second half of the last century. They will need insights into the day to day existemce of ordinary gay men, as they navigated the perils and challenges of a hostile world. Having in addition to the diary photos and videos will make your collection of unequaled value. Please check on the web for gay history archives who could accept your collection. Posterity will thank you. Roderick

Ron said...

Thank you very much for this information. I'll check. Have a great day!

Linda said...

Thank you so much for the information about Lotus Media. You and Bill enjoy the rest of the summer. Take care...……….

Ron said...

I was very pleased with their service. It was personalized. And in America! Washington state. How refreshing. I prefer to do my business here in the states as often as I can.

Ur-spo said...

I read this book. His main point is there is no 'death with dignity' we fall apart gradually mostly into an ignominious end. So, live life to its fullest so when it happens there are no regrets.

Ron said...

Dr. Spo,
This book confirms what I suspected but buried (no pun intended) in the back of my mind, most of us will die in stress and in undignified circumstances. Deaths like that of two of my cousins recently who died peacefully in their sleep, probably isn't the fate that most of us will meet at the End. And that is what I do as you suggest, life life to the fullest without regrets. Thank you for your comment, always appreciated my dear friend.