I went to a funeral in 2003. That’s not unusual for a hospice nurse, but I had a lot of mixed feelings about that one.
I was working in home health and began seeing her every day for wound care. She lived nearby, so after the official daily visits were no longer needed, we remained friends and I visited often.
She was 90 years old when we met, living alone and taking care of most of her affairs herself. She needed someone to drive her to appointments and shopping, since she had voluntarily given up driving a few years before due to poor vision. The loss of that independence and freedom was difficult for her to accept sometimes, but she was honest enough to know she had no real choice.
Mrs. S. had no cartilage in either knee, so walking was slow and painful, yet she never gave up. She had refused knee replacement surgery years before, and it was far too late to do it by the time I met her. She had severe arthritis, diabetes and a serious heart condition which made each day a challenge, and her dislike of taking any medications must have had her doctors pulling out their hair after each visit — yet she took what she absolutely had to have and no more. She would not take anything for pain at all.
She did most of her own housework for many years after we met, and even continued to garden. She had always had wonderful roses, and planted them long after she was really able to care for them. Eventually, she hired help for the house and the yard, but refused to have anyone “live-in”. She loved her little desert home, completely paid for, and her independence. She didn’t ask for anything more from anyone.
This dear lady had been in business for herself well into her 80s. She had several good friends in the area who had worked for her, and they continued to help her as much as they could, taking her on errands and shopping and visiting often when she was sick. She insisted on paying them for their gas, and always took her “driver” to lunch. It made a nice outing for her and helped her helpers too.
Her only surviving child was a man in his late 70s who lived with his wife in a distant city. He visited as often as he could, but his own health was not good and those visits came at ever greater intervals. He wanted her to move to a retirement community out where he lived, but she would not even consider it. We talked on several occasions, and he was naturally concerned for her safety. He simply could not understand that she preferred to be free and at home instead of “safe” and living somewhere else.
She and I had talked about that safety issue many times, of course. She used to chuckle and say she couldn’t understand why everyone was so upset. “Everybody has to die eventually”, she said, “so why the big fuss over it?” She knew full well that she might fall or become ill and not be able to summon help in time, but she much preferred that possibility to life anywhere else, under any other circumstance. That is what freedom meant to her.
Then, at the age of 97, she began to fail and required more and more help at home. She could no longer remember to take her medicine at all, and often forgot to eat. She could have been left at home with a live-in caregiver, but her son chose instead to place her in a nearby long term care facility. The results were predictable and not good.
The first thing they did was take her walker away from her and confine her to a wheel chair. Deprived of exercise, she soon lost the ability to stand or walk at all. This completed the loss of her independence and she became both depressed and confused. Soon she was showing signs of serious dementia, striking out at the caregivers and refusing both medicines and food. With her last failing strength she attempted to wheel herself out the door and down the road… all she wanted was to go home.
Since she would not take the psychotropic drugs, she was transferred to a lock-down psych facility in a distant city and I never got to see her again. She died there a week later, alone and in total captivity.
But, by God, she was “safe”, wasn’t she?
You might want to think of this when you trust anyone else, especially government, with your safety and peace of mind.
Liberty or death…