So You Wanna Be a Vegetable

Imagine, if you will, that an injury, disease, or simple old age causes you to become incapacitated.  Incapacitated is the euphemism I’m using to indicate that you no longer have control over your mind and/or body.

There is a nasogastric tube inserted into your nose down to your stomach, which takes care of pumping nutrients & pharmaceuticals directly into your system, and, there is a Foley catheter inserted into your urethra because you’re not sufficiently aware to know when your bladder is full to go to the restroom to take care of it.  There are restraints on your wrists because you’re so bugfuck crazy, that you have to be preempted from tearing out the tubes.

In short, you’re barely alive.  In fact, the only thing keeping you that way is a ventilator.  You have brain activity, but your body is so thrashed/elderly,  the only reason you’re still here at all is because of the machine, the drugs and the tubes.  And let’s not forget the pending bill from the hospital that you will leave behind for your family to deal with.

Such medical attention will surely make your loved ones feel better because they’re not ready to say goodbye, but does this condition seem to you like there is even the slightest quality of life whatsoever?

Do you think that if you were forced to live for an unspecified duration with tubes going into and coming out of your body, and, the pharmaceutical cocktails floating in your bloodstream slowly poisoning whatever is left of your mind, that you’d be happy?

Would you live like a prisoner trapped in your own body simply to make your family happy?

I know it’s a bummer to bring up the unpleasant realities of disease & death, but consider this a public service announcement.  If you find it uninteresting, then you may as well just sign on to the So You Wanna Be a Vegetable club because that is essentially how you will end up if you don’t take the appropriate steps to ensure that you just want to be able to expire in peace without all the medical intervention and drugs.

Even if you have taken the trouble to complete a Do Not Resuscitate Order, that still doesn’t mean you won’t spend the rest of your days (and what’s left of your estate) paying for hospital care to keep you alive via artificial means.

Despite the fact that the language of the DNR specifies limited emergency care, medical personnel still won’t allow you to die with dignity unless your heart stops beating and/or you stop breathing.  Since DNRs are revocable by the family, eventually you’re going to end up on a ventilator where you will pretty much stay that way indefinitely, ensuring that your breathing never stops on its own.

You could linger for years in this condition as your body and mind slowly degrade leaving you trapped in a bed, shot up with drugs and developing pressure ulcers because hospital staff are overwhelmed with caring for other patients who will recover. But you won’t.

You will lie there in your own vomit, feces and other bodily fluids, unable to do anything but wait for the nurse.  You’re on your way out, you see, and because of that, like it or not, you are at the bottom of the nurse’s roster of patients.  Sure, you’re in a hospital and being charged thousands of dollars per day, but that doesn’t mean you’ve got a room at the Ritz and 24×7 attention.

You’ll be lucky if your nurse has time during her shift to push in the medical cocktail into your IV and attend to your hygienic needs when she’s supposed to because 35 States don’t have a nursing-ratio law. If you’re not hospitalized in one of those 15 that do, this means that your nurse could have upwards of 20 to 30 other patients to get to before s/he can wipe your ass and flip you over onto your other side.

Food for thought – There are approximately 80 million baby boomers in this country between the ages of 46 – 64.  What are the chances that many of them are in the same hospital you are all waiting for their meds/care from the same R.N.?  Are you still confident that in your deteriorated condition you’re at the top of that list consisting 20-30 patients?  If you do, you probably haven’t ever had to wait at the doctor’s office an extra sixty minutes to two hours in addition to the time your appointment was.

And you can forget about company unless you’ve got an extraordinarily devoted family who will live at the hospital with you and otherwise make sure you’re receiving the care you need.  If not, the best you can hope for attentive medical company is a lowly nursing student the hospital pawns off on the undesirable patients at death’s door.

The nursing student has not yet become desensitized to allowing dying patients to lie in their own filth, so you may have a chance of getting immediate care, but I wouldn’t plan on it given that there are very few students these days who aren’t about the big money and the signing bonuses they know they’re going to rake in upon graduation.

Just as Med School used to be about curing sick people, the decision to attend Nursing School used to be about compassionate human beings learning to administer care to the sick, wounded & dying.  But also similar to the physician mentality, it’s all about the dollar signs now.  But don’t take my word for it.  Talk to any nursing student.  You may find one or two who don’t care about the money, but you’ll fast determine that they are in the minority.

Since the hospital can’t just let you die, and, are forced by law to provide the barest minimum of palliatative care, this is what you can look forward to given your condition.

Warning:  Graphic image of a pressure ulcer

I was going to upload the image, but it’s just far too disturbing.  Bed sores may sound like the punchline to a joke, but they are the furthest thing from funny.  They’re what happens to you from lying in a hospital bed in any one position for too long.  If you don’t die from the meds used to keep you artificially alive, then the bed sores will kill you ever so slowly and ever so…    p a i n f u l l y.

Are you still entertaining the idea of life in this condition for the sake of sparing your family from having to attend your funeral?

Are you 100% certain that your family would do what’s right for you instead of what’s convenient for themselves?

Your tortured existence could have been avoided had you made your wishes known in writing before you arrived at this point.  This is where an advance health care directive comes in, AKA a living will.  Let’s just refer to it as a Will for sake of brevity.

A Will is a legal document you leave behind that specifies not only who will inherit your assets, but also determines who has ultimate say so as to what action -if any- should be taken in the event of a medical condition such as the one referenced above.  Even the next of kin -in most instances the spouse- does not have the legal authority to make the call to pull the plug in the absence of a Will. The Terry Schiavo debacle brought this particular point front & center to national attention.

So do yourself and your loved ones a tremendous favor.  Read up on the advance health care directive, decide as to whether or not you want to end up in the produce section with bone deep bed sores, and act accordingly.

©2010 Peyton Farquhar™ and Prattle On, Boyo™. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Peyton Farquhar™ and Prattle On, Boyo™ with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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3 Responses to So You Wanna Be a Vegetable

  1. THREE says:

    Euthanasia… permanent vegetative state… DNR… one of the many reasons I left such a ‘prestigious’ career behind, and am planning to switch to research and neuropsych (the latter has yet to be approved). So I should’ve just ignored this whole article after reading the first paragraph, should’ve dismissed it with my usual “It’s not my headache anymore.”

    But you know I didn’t. Good thing you mentioned advanced directive though.

    The part about going into Med/Nursing School, the minority being the noble ones, the only human(e) children of Hippocrates left on this planet, whilst the rest of us in it for the dollar signs, the glam, the getting-laid potential – couldn’t have said it any better.

    Two thumbs up.

    • Thx. Advance directive was the gist of the piece. There are far too many patients wasting away in the hospital being kept alive via artificial means just because their families don’t want to face a funeral. Meanwhile, the patient is basically tortured and unable to die with any sort of dignity. The whole Terry Schiavo ordeal left a very distinctive, bitter taste in my mouth indefinitely. Because of that, I’m an ardent proponent of a living will.

      • THREE says:

        The costs some people are willing to bear to entertain their denial that all life will one day cease to exist.

        But yeah, easier said than done. Sometimes it’s not that easy letting go of something you’d always wish would stay forever with you like they promised. Attachment is a b*tch.

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