Sunday, September 14, 2014
YOLO COUNTY NEWS
99 CENTS

When knocking on wood for luck is not enough

MarionFranckW

By
From page A6 | November 03, 2013 |

Until recently, I didn’t realize how drastically the medical world has changed over the lifetime of baby boomers like me. Somehow, I had the idea that intensive care units, for example, have been around forever, when, in fact, they didn’t exist until 1961.

Before 1955 there were few devices like the pacemaker that can keep a heart beating after a mind is gone, nor were their respirators to keep people breathing, nor huge quantities of drugs. Medicare, which pays for much of this, only began in 1965.

What did medical inventions do for us? They extended lives, certainly. But as a nation we became like wild horses suddenly freed, galloping in one direction toward more intervention, more drugs, more hardware. We need to slow down, to turn back, to come into our paddock and rest.

This is the feeling I had after reading “Knocking on Heaven’s Door: The Path to a Better Way of Death” by Katy Butler who speaks this Friday, Nov. 8, at The Avid Reader in Davis at 7:30. When I interviewed her via Skype, she told me that this part of her book — the chapters about technical overreach and how to stop it — is not what people ask about.

Instead, readers are captured — as I was — by the personal story of her parents: her father who, at 85, dies a prolonged, over-medicalized death from dementia and other ailments, and her mother who is able to make different choices and dies two years later without medical intervention, on her own terms.

Readers are puzzled, as I was, by the story of her brothers, neither of whom shared caregiving with her. In a bit of shop talk, I asked Butler how her brothers felt about being included in the book. Butler told me that one brother was fine with everything and helped her edit. The other wanted as little written about himself as possible.

One brother appears under his own name. The other does not.

As a writer, I’m interested in that detail, and as a long-term volunteer at Yolo Hospice, I am interested in the entire book, but my major insight, one that I want to record here and to have my husband and children read — probably more than once — came after I finished the book.

Before I share that insight, I want to say more about “Knocking on Heaven’s Door,” which achieves two ambitious goals. It is a memoir in which Butler tells her story of parental love — lost and later found — in a beautiful and honest way.

It also discusses the American way of death, which involves emergency rooms, last-ditch efforts at chemotherapy, and desperate surgeries that keep most people under treatment or in hospitals until they die.

Some patients are referred to hospice but fully half of them, writes Butler, go on service 18 days or fewer before death, so they receive barely a taste of the gentle, comfort care for which hospice is famous.

Once in my conversation with Butler, I found myself tearing up when talking about my father’s death. I didn’t expect that, and I felt embarrassed. This gave me a sense of Butler’s situation, where people now feel free to ask personal questions and make personal comments because her book, rising on science bestseller lists, invites response. She reports that she often receives emails from people who express sympathy and then tell their own stories, from which she learns.

At its heart, her book is about the struggle to die the way we want to die. Many of us agree on the elements of a good death: we don’t want it to be painful, we don’t want to spend years demented, and we don’t want to burden our families.

Butler shows how big medicine, well-funded by the drug and medical device lobbies, pushes in the opposite direction, keeping bodies going with minds that are dead, taking extreme measures in the last weeks of life, and too-often ignoring or overlooking written orders not to resuscitate. Living past what they would have chosen, people die too late.

There are ways to avoid this.

You say no to treatments, you get your whole family on board, you get your doctor on board, too. You give power of health decisions in writing to the right people and you tell them, very clearly, what you want. You keep the paperwork handy.

Here’s a big problem, though, and this is the insight I reached after I finished Butler’s book but kept thinking about it.

Death is not a dinner party, where if you don’t want to arrive late, you simply show up on time.

When it comes to death, the alternative to dying too late, is dying too early, dying when someone might say, “she could have had more time,” “a pacemaker might have her kept around longer,” or “we lost her too soon.”

Rare is the death where everyone says, “that timing was just right.”

If I manage to die on my own terms, refusing treatments I find extreme, I may, in the eyes of my loved ones, die too early. This could make them feel guilty or bad. I don’t want that. But hitting the bull’s eye is impossible.

Butler’s book is hopeful. With changes in our medical practice and a wider use of palliative care, she says, a good death can come. But not a perfect one.

— Marion Franck lives in Davis with her family. Reach her at marionf2@gmail.com

Comments

comments

  • Recent Posts

  • Enter your email address to subscribe to this newspaper and receive notifications of new articles by email.

  • .

    News

    Psychologist casts doubt on Marsh insanity defense

    By Lauren Keene | From Page: A1 | Gallery

     
    Looking for a few good residents

    By Dave Ryan | From Page: A1 | Gallery

    Well levels drop around the county as drought presses on

    By Elizabeth Case | From Page: A1 | Gallery

     
    Snyder pleads no contest in UCD explosives case

    By Lauren Keene | From Page: A1

    Video shows slaying of British aid worker

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

     
    Try yoga, meditation at Holistic Health Center

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A2

    Sign up now for free Community Yard Sale

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A2

     
    Friday night robbery leads to arrests, dog bite

    By Elizabeth Case | From Page: A2

    Bob Dunning: Now the weather nut is all grown up

    By Bob Dunning | From Page: A2

     
    Portuguese breakfast set in Woodland

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

    Youths can learn from DHS cheerleaders

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

     
    West Nile virus holds strong in Davis area

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

     
    Davis Neighbors’ Night Out brings residents together

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

    Saylor meets constituents at Peet’s

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

     
    Hawaiian Luau set at Covell Gardens

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

    Memorial playground approaches goal

    By Lily Holmes | From Page: A4

     
    Logos plans four events for October

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4

    White, Gaard will lead Yolo Superior Court in 2015-16

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4 | Gallery

     
    Fourth annual Capay Crush celebrates farm life

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4 | Gallery

    Climate change rally planned in Central Park

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4

     
    Downtown history tour planned in October

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

    Gibson House hosts plant sale and workshop

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4

     
    Farmers Market sets Fall Festival

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

    Renée Thompson to discuss her novel for Woodland Reads project

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A6

     
    Day of the Dead altar makers sought

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A6 | Gallery

    MCCC will present justice awards at luncheon

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A6

     
    New class offers parenting strategies

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A6

    Genealogy club presents virtual tour of local resource

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A7

     
    University Farm Circle reaches out to newcomers

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A8

    Garden doctor: Our trees are getting thirsty

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A11 | Gallery

     
    Public invited to 2014 Yolo Aging Summit

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A11

    .

    Forum

    They don’t want him around

    By Creators Syndicate | From Page: A5

     
    Unexpected treasures from the summer

    By Marion Franck | From Page: A5

    Preventing RSV infections in our kids

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A5

     
    She’s getting all the blame

    By Creators Syndicate | From Page: B5

    The sacrificial lamb on the altar of denial

    By Debra DeAngelo | From Page: A5

     
    Is history repeating itself?

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A12

    Time for a progressive PD

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A12

     
    A bad vote for our water

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A12

    Bloggers, beware: They might be out to get you

    By Derrick Bang | From Page: A12

     
    Bob Englehart cartoon

    By Debbie Davis | From Page: A12

    Davis has options on innovation

    By Our View | From Page: A12

     
    Archer has worked hard for us

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A12

    Speak out

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A13

     
    .

    Sports

    Unlikely hero powers Republic in playoff opener

    By Evan Ream | From Page: B1 | Gallery

     
    No more FBS, but UCD’s tough schedule continues

    By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B1

    DHS boys get a nice win with two big games looming

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B1

     
    Vintage pounds DHS on the ground

    By Spencer Ault | From Page: B1 | Gallery

    Aggie offense is there, but UCD can’t stop Rams

    By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B1 | Gallery

     
    JV Blue Devils drop a high-scoring affair

    By Spencer Ault | From Page: B3

    UCD roundup: Dons do just enough to edge Aggie women

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B4 | Gallery

     
    Sports briefs: Blue Devils net a tournament win at home

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B8 | Gallery

    Baseball roundup: A’s get a much-needed win in Seattle

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B8

     
    .

    Features

    .

    Arts

    Apply now for Davis Community Idol

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A11

     
    .

    Business

    Nugget Markets’ cheese specialists achieve certified professional status

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A9 | Gallery

     
    Talks continue for proposed Old Soul site

    By Wendy Weitzel | From Page: A9

    Yolo County real estate sales

    By Zoe Juanitas | From Page: A9

     
    University lights way for hospital energy savings

    By Kat Kerlin | From Page: A14 | Gallery

    Davis leaders celebrate Engage3′s advances

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A14 | Gallery

     
    Doby Fleeman: The opportunity is ours

    By Doby Fleeman | From Page: A14

    .

    Obituaries

    Virnelle Triebsch

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4

     
    .

    Comics

    Comics: Sunday, September 14, 2014

    By Creator | From Page: B8