From the messy desk of a procrastinating med student

Friday, April 07, 2006

The old, the older, and the persistent vegetative ridiculous

One of the members of my family died today: my grandmother's cousin. She was 91.

Now, one of the things that you will find out about me is that I love old people. I love my Nan. I work on weekends as a carer looking after a number of old biddies. AND, I spend a lot of time campaigning for the improvement of their lot.

Anyway, this 91 year old, Dee, lived the middle sixty years of her life as a veritable giant of my family. An old fashioned matriarch. She brimmed, rosy-cheeked, with gossip, advice, cackly laughter and recipes for Hungarian Goulash.

I remember vividly as a kid walking into my Nan's house and seeing her on the phone. Nan would be rolling her eyes. "Dee's on the phone." Nan would be stuck there chatting for hours.

But in her eighties, Dee suffered increasingly with Dementia. By 85 she was just a shell: bed ridden, non-responsive, non-communicative, conscious but not functioning.

The tragedy here of course is not that she died, but that she was allowed to live for six or seven years, in a nursing home, as a vegetable. White skin, no teeth. Dribble. She would regularly get chest infections, pneumonia, viruses. She had dreadful bedsores.

So why did they continue to treat her with antibiotics? Hypertension tablets? Cholesterol meds? Flu shots? And the rest? Dee, this vicacious, loud, goulash-yeilding woman would have been horrified to see her dignity lost for so many years, a living dead woman in a nursing home.

Sometimes families, and their doctors, have much to answer for.


Blogger Lisa said...

Sounds like such a sad ending for an amazing woman. Perhaps this is why we should all sort out a "no heroic measures" stipulation before we get to the point where we can't say it for ourselves. Seriously, I would hate to end life like that. :(

1:14 AM GMT+9:30

Blogger Lish said...

Hi Lisa

Thanks for visiting my new blog :)

Yeah, such a tragedy. I used to visit her (or should I say her shell) in hospital a couple of times a year and it would make me sad as well as very angry!

I am the 'Enduring Power of Guardianship' for another of my elderly relatives, which means that I will make the decisions on his behalf when he is no longer able to do so himself. I think we have a good understanding about what that rules are ;)

1:07 PM GMT+9:30

Anonymous morgan said...

It's a tough call whatever happens, but I'm with you on how and when to end things.

7:44 PM GMT+9:30

Blogger Luke said...

A sensitive post; with most of us agreeing with your view.
Thanks for sharing.
There is a time to gently say... "enough is enough".

10:21 AM GMT+9:30


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