Wednesday, 24 November 2010
We are at a wonderful time in our lives, a time to look back and be grateful that we were born, raised and grew to maturity when and where we did. We have seen neither war, pestilence nor famine. Ours was a world of more or just a little less, not a world of nothing. Very few of us have died, and catastrophic illness has thus far not decimated our ranks. Alas we all know of friends, neighbours and colleagues who have not been so lucky, and today I am prompted to think out loud to the friends of my youth. It is not an easy subject, so be tolerant with my meanderings.
I have lost four good friends over the past ten months, one older than us by a couple of years, one our age, and two others just a little younger. Witnessing their last months has left me puzzled and troubled, and not at all at peace. In Canada, we are blessed to have a wonderful health care system. It has its fault and shortcomings, but we are generally well served, especially when we approach our final innings. In Toronto, the hospitals in the University Health Network are staffed by men and women of international renown, and at home, your own Health Sciences hospital is very well rated. [do I have the name right?] Nevertheless, some of what I encountered this year here has raised more questions than I have answers for, and seldom are my questions ever seriously addressed.
Allow me to begin where you least expect me to begin. I have personally witnessed some amazing feats of medical science over the past year. My cousin’s husband came up here from home for special treatment at Princess Margaret Cancer Hospital, and had a complete scalp replacement. Think about that miracle for a moment. Another friend went through two bone marrow procedures; a third had two kidney transplants in the course of 18 months. Modern Science certainly has the ability to keep us going, but I am forced to ask at what cost? I am not referring to the costs of the procedures, but rather to the costs in quality of life. I salute the bravery of my now departed friends who fought so hard to the very end, but I wonder if there is any room left for the art of medicine? I wonder how many specialists and oncologists ever look back and ask, should I have done that procedure? Did I not just prolong suffering and unnecessarily prolong departure? I need to know that they do ask such questions, and I hope they do. Lying on a hard bed in a white room with tubes projecting from every orifice , poisoned by chemo therapy, skeletal men half their former sizes, barely able to stand as they are officially stabilized to allow for the next round or series of procedures, is not a good death. To be brutally frank, what I have witnessed over the past ten months scares the hell out of me, and I never want to put my loved ones or myself through it. But how do I stop it, and will I want to when my day dawns. I don’t know. What I do know is that I stand in awe of the miracles wrought by science, that I do not fear death, but I am scared as hell about the processing of dying.
Happy American Thanksgiving!