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Friday, September 10, 2010

Till Death do us... try to communicate

Over the summer, The New York Times Sunday magazine included a touching article by Katy Butler entitled “What broke my Father’s Heart”.  If you haven’t read it, you should. (I’ve included a link to the article at the end of my diatribe.)

Early Adopters
The well-crafted article recounts how a pacemaker prolonged her father’s life -- but destroyed her parents final years together. Much of the problem stemmed from being poorly informed victims instead of beneficiaries of the advances made in medical technologies designed to prolong lives. 

I don’t want you to think for a moment that I think pacemakers are not wonderful.  I have at least three friends under the age of 60 who sport them. I’m not denouncing them in the least. What is disturbing though, is how anything that prolongs life is being served up to consumers. In summary, the way Medicare is set up, it rewards Doctors more for doing procedures vs. assessing whether the procedures should even be done at all. 

"Meet Joe Black"
Early Storyboard Frame
The piece goes on to cite that according to the Center for Responsive Politics, the medical profession including doctors, drug companies, hospitals, and medical equipment manufacturers spent over $500 million dollars lobbying Congress in 2009 and my favorite paragraph in the piece says: 

“The system rewarded nobody for saying “no” or even “wait” — not even my frugal, intelligent, Consumer-Reports-reading mother. Medicare and supplemental insurance covered almost every penny of my father’s pacemaker. My mother was given more government-mandated consumer information when she bought a new Camry a year later.”   

The piece also noted that if 911 were called in the case of an medical emergency, the technicians would not honor a do-not-resuscitate order if the patient was not wearing an state-issued bracelet.  I know nothing about this and what the laws are here in New Jersey or any other state. If any of you do, would you let me know please in case, as Mel Brooks’ 2000-year-old man said, my heart should attack me.

I would really recommend you read this article and then use it to have a conversation with your elderly parents, if you are lucky enough to still have them  --- or with your life partner, if you are lucky enough to have one of those  ----or even with your children or siblings or best friend. Someone, somewhere needs to have this conversation.

I tried to have it with my husband.  I walked into his home office, waited until he noticed me, and gave him the article with the following admonitions:
"On the plus side, death is one
of the few things that can
just as easily be done lying down."
Woody Allen

1. I would like you to read this article.

2. I think it is well written and well informed.

3. I think it is a conversation we should have.

4. I am not asking you to read it right now.

Ladies and Gentlemen, didn’t I handle this correctly? 
Naturally, he glanced at the title and wrinkled his eyebrows and said, “Cremation, no extra-ordinary measures, no resuscitation” and handed the article back to me smiling.            

“Well, I wanted to have a conversation about this.” I said.                          

"I thought we just did." He said.

Hello. It is any wonder that books can be written about Men being from Mars?  It is my hope that someday soon I will be able to get him to sit down and actually read the article and come up with a list of questions for our elderly parents and one another. In the meantime, I’m doing my best to avoid death.  

What broke my Father's Heart by Katy Butler


  1. yes, you handled it correctly.
    however, hope springs eternal...

  2. Dear CJ -- I just ran across your beautifully written blog, and thank you for resonating with my article, "What Broke My Father's Heart." . Almost every state has limits on how DNRs are honored (often not) by paramedics. If you google your state, plus DNR, plus EMTs, you may find the requirements for your state. California, where I am, honors a universal steel bracelet from MedAlert, or is it Medicalert? I am currently writing a book to help guide us through the spiritual ordeal of our parents dying, and perhaps our own deaths as well. In the old days, there were even self-help books (I'm talking about the 1500s) called "The Art of Dying." I think a lot of us have lost the knack and the knowledge. all my best, Katy Butler