Change your words, change your thinking, change your life (3/10/(2010)
Last week I had 3 inches of my small intestine removed in an unpleasant surgical procedure. Being on Chemo my immune system is compromised. Had I not had the surgery my intestine may have burst. With the compromised immune system I may have died. So at one point I thanked the surgeon for “Saving my life.” Wrong! She didn’t save my life. She kept me from dying last week. She prolonged my life. But I am still going to die. We all are.
When we talk about saving lives we mush up the thinking that should be clear when we think about aging and health care. We would make much better decisions if we forgot about “saving lives” and thought in stead about “prolonging life.”
Saving a life is priceless. Prolonging a life? It depends. For how long, for what cost in time, pain, suffering and, yes, even, money? Would I want Michele to spend $100,000 to keep me around for another week? Hell, no. For another healthy 25 years? You bet.
Saving Life seems open ended but is not. Prolonging life invites the important questions. What kind of life are we prolonging? One of health and joy or of sickness and suffering? Prolonging for how long? Should we spend the same energy prolonging the life of an octogenarian as we would of a teenager?
When our beloved dog, Roxy, was very old and sick and couldn’t walk, I didn’t want to lose her. If I thought the vet could have saved her life I would have asked him to do so. He could have only prolonged her life and her suffering. It would have been cruel for me to let him do that. I still miss her. I did the right thing. I let her go.
I’m glad I had my surgery. I’m glad we prolonged my life. I hope we prolonged it for another 26 years one month and 13 days, when I will turn 97. (I reserve the right to change my mind.)