I recently read a fascinating but depressing (to me) book written by author Atui Gawande, called Being Mortal. It’s been on the bestseller list for a while so I guess I am not the only one that took an interest in the subject matter, which involves dying.
When you get to a certain age you do begin thinking about it and what your last days might be like. The book deals with the doctor’s problems and helping the elderly make decisions for how they want to live out their remaining years.
Of course, many of them had various forms of cancer and the options for treating cancer are varied. The doctors usually are forced into advising their patient of the choices between surgery, chemotherapy, or some of the other methods that at best make people comfortable for a longer period of time. All of the treatments have pluses and minuses, and unfortunately the patients are forced to decide for themselves which might give them the most days, months, or years to continue their lives.
The author makes the point that many senior citizens are shuffled off to nursing homes which provide the basic care necessary to maintain their health. This means getting their pills on time; being fed on a strict schedule; sharing a room in many cases with someone who snores, belches, or just plain groans most of the time.
Remember that many of the people in these nursing homes were removed from the comfort of their own home and suddenly are adapting to a totally different lifestyle and not a pleasant one at that.
One of the council members in Cutler Bay, Susie Loyzelle works with a group called Communities for a Lifetime in which she is attempting to address the problems that these elderly folks have adjusting to a totally new phase of their environment. There is hospice care, which allows for a little more freedom and a little gentler care to make them more comfortable.
The research that Dr. Gawande worked on brought some new factors to life by simply asking people in their final years what they would most enjoy and how they would like to spend their time.
This was all brought home to me recently when our town manager, Ralph Casals, arranged to have a “bus party” utilizing our circulator bus to invite all of the people who live in our community that are in their later years just to take a ride and have some fun for a couple of hours.
I was lucky enough to participate in this, for two reasons: I am the vice mayor of the town, but not many years different than most of the other riders. What I observed was a bunch of extremely happy people — many of whom only spoke Spanish — having a wonderful time chatting with one another, looking out the windows, and playing with their gift bags, which we provided for each and every one of them.
As is my habit, I began flirting with one of the older women on board. She was as spunky as could be and had no hesitation in telling me that I was much too young for her. Remember that most of these seniors spend most of their time in their rooms and occasionally meeting with some of the others who live in the various homes in which they abide.
To most of us riding in a bus for several hours would not be considered a treat, but for them it was a day out and an opportunity to meet and talk to a variety of people. My extremely limited Spanish turned out to not be such a handicap because somehow they seem to get the message that I was trying to get across. When I had difficulty communicating our town manager, who speaks fluent Spanish, was able to translate for me.
It truly made me feel proud to be part of the administration of a town that goes out of its way to care for its elders. Most times those of us in politics get to hear all the negatives about our town but spending time with our senior citizens, who literally praised us, made me, for one, feel that all of our efforts are well worthwhile.
Happy holidays to all my friends and readers