None of us leave this life alive; we all experience death. I am frustrated when I read an article about how a medical intervention “saves lives.” No intervention yet has saved anyone from dying; we all die. What medical interventions do is postpone death.
The process of dying differs from person to person. Most people want death to be as painless as possible, and their loved ones and caregivers do everything in their power to make it so. Knowing someone you love is dying is intensely frustrating. That is probably why so few people enroll in a hospice program. It may be comforting to the doctor and the family to feel like they are doing something, even if futile, to prevent (postpone) the dying.
My dog is 14 years old. In people time, she is about 100. She doesn’t see well, she doesn’t hear well, she doesn’t move around well. In the past 2 weeks, she has pretty much stopped eating and developed a limp; she moans when I pick her up. I know what is coming. I am a geriatric care manager. My clients are old, and I have been with them as they died. I know what is happening to them is happening to her. But knowing is different from experiencing it firsthand, around the clock, with a loved one, even a dog.
Against my own professional advice, I took my dog to the vet. I know there is nothing to be done. But I was hoping for a reprieve, a magic pill that would give me another few months with my furry friend. The vet, like most doctors, rose to the request for help. She started the dog on antibiotics, saying, “This dog is old; she probably has an infection somewhere.” She gave me appetite stimulant pills, pain pills, and steriods. All of these had to be forced down the poor dog’s throat, as she struggled against this invasion of her body. In spite of my best efforts, she refuses ice cream, turkey, baby food. The body shuts down as it dies, and she is not hungry. Eating, and the antibiotics, give her diarrhea.
I have made my peace. The medical interventions are gone. I cuddle her, I tell her I love her, I carry her outside and wash soiled towels. And I wait. Waiting for death is intensely frustrating and sad and necessary and loving.