Late last year, my 95 year old friend I will call “Melissa” fell and fractured her hip which is especially serious at her age. In one study of people over 65 who fractured a hip, up to 50% died in 6 months with the highest mortality rates found in people over 90 years old.
In Melissa’s case, she also had long-term chronic congestive heart failure when she fell in her bathroom at home. She underwent successful surgery and was sent to a rehab facility where she developed a blood clot that went to her lungs. After successful treatment of that complication, she later developed a life-threatening pneumonia after returning to the rehab facility. She had difficulty breathing even with 100% oxygen by mask and 911 was called. I was with her when the ambulance arrived and I followed it to the hospital.
In the Emergency Room, the doctor asked her son and I about how aggressive to be if her heart or breathing worsened. I said “Ask her!” and the doctor was stunned when she vehemently said “Yes!”, even after he explained the potential problems with cardiopulmonary resuscitation and ventilators. My friend has a durable power of attorney naming her daughter as her health decision maker but the doctor wrongly assumed my friend was not able to speak for herself and that Melissa’s son and I were her decision makers. Thanks to our smartphones, Melissa’s daughter and I were in constant phone contact during that time.
After a few weeks in the hospital, Melissa astonished the doctors by recovering with antibiotics and a temporary BiPap (a face mask machine to support her breathing) until the antibiotics took hold. Then, after another short stint in a facility, my friend was finally able to go home with outpatient rehab and help from family and friends.
Going home was Melissa’s first goal.
This week, she accomplished the second of her goals: returning to Friday Mass and breakfast at Chick-Fil-A for her weekly outing with friends again. Her last goal is to celebrate at her 96th birthday party in August and none of us would bet against her achieving that also.
In a society that seems to almost venerate youth and material success, those of us who are older can be made to feel useless and even a burden.
That can be fatal.
For example and just this month, 104 year old Australian scientist David Goodall who had no terminal illness traveled to Switzerland for physician-assisted suicide and to actively promote it.
According to USA Today, he said that:
“My abilities and eyesight are declining, and I no longer want to live this way...I hope something positive will come out of my story and that other countries will adopt a more liberal view of assisted suicide.”
Sadly, he also added that he “had no pressure from his family to change his mind.” (Emphasis added)
David Goodall was a renowned biologist who produced more than 100 research papers and earned three doctorates when:
“In 2016, at 102, the university ordered him to leave his office, calling him a safety risk to himself. Goodall challenged the decision, which was reversed after an outpouring of public support.
Earlier this year, however, Goodall fell while at home alone in his one-bedroom apartment and remained on the floor for two days until he was found by his cleaner, according to The New Daily.
Afterward, Goodall said he was considered incapable of looking after himself. Moreover, most of his friends were dead.”
Philip Nitschke, director of Exit International, a right-to-die organization in Australia called Goodall’s “story of elective, rational suicide by the elderly is an important one.” (Emphasis added)
What a sad, depressing story Mr. Goodall’s story is compared to Melissa’s!
This should be a wake-up call to the rest of us not only about the frightening expansion and promotion of physician-assisted suicide but also about how all of us need to recognize the value, wisdom and even inspiration of older people.
We must also recognize that we all need help at some point in our lives. We are totally dependent on others when we are born and many of us need at least some help near the end of our lives. But when we truly care for each other, both the helper and the person being helped are enriched to live their best lives.