When Conrad came home from the hospital after recovering from his fall and concussion, he was given a gaudy bright-pink form to fill out and post on the fridge door, and another one for me. These are what responders to a 911 call will look for when they enter your house. If you’re not breathing and don’t have a heartbeat, what then? Your bright pink POLST form (Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment) will tell them whether you want to continue your death-journey or whether you want them to do everything they can to bring you back. Medicare covers a doctor visit for you to think this through ahead of time together and make your wishes known. Wow.
The two of us finally have an actual doctor, a PCP (Primary Care Physician) who knows our names and faces and actually both talks and listens during a visit. (This has been lacking for a long time.) He spent time walking us through the after-911 possibilities—what happens later in the hospital, what happens after you come home, what happens if you enter hospice, etc, and how you get yourself and your family to know you’re all on the same page.
In this long spiral path of conversation in his office, what came up again and again was Quality of Life. What does that mean? What makes living worth it? If I’m on a breathing machine and a feeding tube and have no significant brain activity, how long do I want to call that Life, if there’s no prospect of change?
That’s a helluva question to answer. Our doc is a mensch. He recently lost his father, and shared a bit about that. It was a terminal diagnosis, and the father said he wanted it to be simple. He wanted to be fully “there,” and then he wanted to be gone. He wanted time for his family to gather, to know what was coming, to have time together to make it real, then say good-bye and let it happen. California is one of the states that permits this, and that’s what they did.
Our culture has been squeamish about both birth and death, the only two experiences shared by every human who has ever lived. Now there are end-of-life doulas, and the Sebastopol Senior Center has hosted a monthly “Death Cafe” for a number of years. Samhain is coming close, and our own list of those close to us who are no longer living—well, it gets longer every year, as it does for everyone.
We will observe our own Samhain in the majestic fragrant embrace of Salt Point State Park, with music provided by the whump of surf on the rocks and the whisper of wind in the pines. Our fire-pit will flare, flicker, and subside, as will we all. Two weeks later, we will celebrate the bonding in 1960 that united us for life. Our essential Life-Sustaining Treatment is what we do with and for each other every day.