The Long Haul
I just finished an audio book called Being Mortal by Atul Gawande. It's an amazing book. He talks about the aging process and how nobody is really prepared for it, nor are they willing to have the important discussions about it, particularly in Western cultures. He also discusses how doctors (he is one) often give patients unreal expectations when they have a terminal illness, and how those patients often spend their last months fighting a battle that they can never win, when they should be spending their final days surrounded by the people they love, preferably at home. The book discusses hospice care, assisted living, complex care facilities and how much these things have veered away from their original course. We treat our elderly like children. We want them to be safe, so we do the equivalent of baby proofing; we take away their right to choose.
It got me to thinking about a lot of things. I've worked in healthcare, both hospital and complex care for a number of years now. I have seen many people die, and, on two occasions, sat and held the hand of a dying person who had nobody else to do it. They took their last breaths with me sitting at their side – somebody they didn't know. Dying in a hospital ain't so great; complex care is only marginally better.
This book got me thinking about a lot of things, one of them being the foods that are served in hospitals as well as the recommendations that are made to cardiac patients, kidney patients, etc about what to eat when they get home. It's mind bogglingly bad. I'm not saying that every person everywhere should be a vegan (OK I am saying that) but if you've got someone who has just had a quadruple bypass why on earth are you feeding them the crap that is more commonly known as hospital food? I have served up a lot of hospital meals to a lot of patients, and while I can say that my hospital it better than many, it still isn't very good.
Further, if we really made an effort to educate people before they needed that bypass, then I wonder how much money would be saved in healthcare costs. Why don't we attempt to fix the problem before there actually is a problem? If the food pyramid, and the educational material that goes with it is revamped, if teachers had a curriculum promoting a more plant based diet, if the dairy and beef industry weren't in our faces everywhere, and I do mean everywhere, then I'm willing to bet that our hospitals and care facilities wouldn't be bursting at the seams the way they currently are.
It's a difficult thing to picture oneself old and/or sick. Working with the elderly was a huge eye opener for me; I can't even describe it. I've seen so much illness that is preventable and it's heartbreaking. And yes, some things cannot be prevented – I know this more than anyone. We all know somebody who died young, who died unexpectedly; but if you're not that person, if you're going to live to old age (and I hope that you are) do you not want it to be as easy as possible? Don't you want to feel reasonably good, and be able to get up and walk and enjoy life as much as you can with as much dignity as possible? Food for thought, folks. It's not that far away, take care of yourselves now, and hopefully you'll reap the benefits of that down the road, and perhaps while you're travelling that road, you'll give some thought to how you want things to be when you get close to the final destination.