COVID and Me
I awoke about two in the morning with shaking chills and a fever just under 102°. Although I couldn’t be certain where I got infected, it had been about 5 days since my wife and flew with our twin granddaughters to take them home and then flew back the same day. Nobody else got sick, but somewhere along the line, despite taking all the precautions, I got exposed.
Lying in bed that night, feeling about as sick as I ever have before, I knew what was happening, and its implications started to overwhelm my thoughts. I had already decided that if I got ill enough with COVID-19 to require ICU and ventilator, I would not agree to that, would enroll in hospice, and hope to die peacefully at home. My wife and I had discussed it, we both said we would be willing to take the risks and care for each other in that situation.
Yet so many other issues remained unresolved, and these were the questions that flooded my mind: there are so many things I have to help my wife with because of her Sjögren neuropathy, I never showed her how I manage our home finances, and whatever would we do if she got sick? I never made disposition arrangements; are there any available niches in the columbarium at church? When you are only half awake and maybe a bit delirious from fever, it’s not the best time to make rational plans, but when you are certain you are going to die, it seems the logical thing to do. Of course I didn’t die, and several days later I was feeling pretty much back to normal. And of course, I haven’t taught Pat how to use Quicken or made plans for disposition of my earthly remains; I’m as good at denial and procrastination as anybody else.
That terrible night, after I had taken some ibuprofen, drenched my bed with sweat, and started to relax a bit I realized that, despite all my worries about unfinished business, despite my delirious certainty that the end of my life was imminent, I never felt afraid. In fact, the “fact” of my demise felt comfortable and familiar.
This is the primary message of my book, Dying With Ease: A Compassionate Guide to Making Wiser Decisions at the End of Life. I am convinced, after decades of caring for patients with serious and terminal illness, that too many people suffer unnecessarily at the end of their lives because they lived with the prevalent American myth that denies, even defies death. Somehow, we imagine that if we don’t think about dying it won’t happen to us, until it does.
We all know, in our brains at least, that we are mortal. And we also know that we should probably do something to plan for it sooner or later. If the coronavirus pandemic teaches us anything, it is that it may well be sooner. None of us is invulnerable. The key here is honesty, and it is neither scary nor dangerous. What I offer in my book is a guide through the unfamiliar territory of dying in America, a region with its own language, confusions, even politics. I don’t know if my apparent calm that night is what it will feel like when I encounter my own death, but it was a familiar ease that I wish for myself, and for you.
Photo by Yuris Alhumaydy on UNSPLASH