Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Flunking the Mortality Test

Today brainhell tossed a grisly gauntlet before his readers: he challenged us to enter a contest in which we write a vignette describing his death.

Wow. The man is hard.

His loyal longtime readers are well aware that with ALS, the loss of respiratory function is going to be the most likely cause of his death. At some point, brainhell will probably become completely unable to breathe. And this, he has told us, is an extremely unpleasant way to die.

Progressive weakness in the muscles of his respiratory system has already made breathing, coughing, and swallowing difficult for him. This condition can cause him to aspirate saliva, which could result in a fatal lung infection such as pneumonia. Or he might go into a laryngospasm that closes off his airway so that he can't inhale, can't take a breath, can't even call for help, causing him to suffocate, helpless, panicked, alone in his bed. Or he might die of cardiac arrhythmias caused by insufficient oxygen. There are many possibilities, almost all involving the utterly horrible terrifying nightmare of not being able to breathe.

We all know this, his devoted readers. We know it well. And yet so far, not one commenter has dared to broach this hideous prospect, much less compose an actual vignette describing the agonizing details. We're much too busy dancing and twirling around it in a cowardly frenzy of upbeat denial.

But by doing so I wonder if we haven't somehow abandoned our brainhell, leaving him all alone with his terrible truth. Here he invited us to join him, to keep him company by graphically imagining his own personal tenth circle of hell, but not one of us has been brave enough to accept the invitation. I'm especially feeling like a lily-livered hypocrite myself right now, after all my blustery bravado about bravely sticking my head straight up the rosy pink anus of mortality and crap like that. Hell, the best I could do was conjure up Emily Dickinson's meaningless fly on the windowsill.

Ok, let me try again. How's this: brainhell chokes to death from laughing so hard at us all for being such sorryass cowards in the face of his challenge. Not this particular challenge of course, but another one, equally daunting, issued somewhere way way down the line.


Blogger Yankee T said...

Oh, dear. I'm not in denial, and I don't feel upbeat about his situation, I just couldn't bear to write what I imagine it's going to be like. I flunked the test, big time.

11:08 PM  
Blogger Betsey C. said...

I hear you. I flunked too. I hope BH dies peacefully in his sleep. It's too awful to think otherwise.

8:04 AM  
Blogger Lisa said...

If there is no peaceful sleep, I hope he gets hit by a bus while strolling across the Champs d'Elysées, dazzled by the spring sunshine & smell of blooming roses.

I held my mother in my arms while she died from emphysema two years ago, her ruined lungs filling and slowly drowning her. I still have nightmares of that time. I would choose a different death, if I have a choice.

11:05 PM  
Blogger kristi said...

I couldn't say anything either. I watched my mother pass away from the same cause.

12:58 PM  
Blogger Calabama said...

I'm sorry to read about your moms, Lisa and Kristi. It's a rough way to go, but it can be made much easier. As my mother (who had emphysema, heart failure and Alzheimer's) grew too weak to breathe, even with the mask, we gave her oral liquid morphine drops until her breathing eased. She whispered "I feel wonderful," and then fell asleep. We did this through the next day whenever she had trouble breathing, and finally she drifted off, in my arms, her favorite cat purring at her side, her favorite jazz (Billie) on the stereo.

I'm not sure if her passing was exceptionally easy or that this would help everyone, but any hospice worker or nurse will have techniques and meds to ease passing, and should offer them, if it's the patient's wish. I am forever grateful that we could send my beloved mom off with such ease.

3:57 PM  

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