This has been a tough month for baby boomers and rock 'n' roll fans, punctuated by the deaths of David Bowie, Eagles' co-founder Glenn Frey, Dan Haggerty of Grizzly Adams fame, Mott the Hoople’s drummer Dale Griffin, and singer Celine Dion's husband and brother.
Dr. Mark Taubert, a palliative care physician in Cardiff, United Kingdom, wrote a thank-you note to David Bowie in the BMJ, formerly the British Medical Journal. He told the late star that his careful pre-death planning was serving as an inspiration to the rest of us who might not otherwise face death so gracefully. "Your story became a way for us to communicate very openly about death," Taubert wrote.
After thanking Bowie for his moving and prescient album and video, Blackstar, released within days of his death, Taubert segued into a discussion of other steps Bowie took to manage his last days among us. His observations about what most of us will eventually face are worth considering.
Dying at home comfortably beats dying in a hospital. We have been shown a wealth of pictures from Bowie's last days, not in a hospital gown, but looking sharply turned out in a well-cut suit. Most of us probably won't be able to pull that off, but having a plan for home care is what's required to make it happen. As Taubert says in his tribute, "You looked great, as always, and it seemed in direct defiance of all the scary monsters that the last weeks of life can be associated with."
If there were ever a time for drugs... Taubert points out that Bowie's plan in his final days must have provided for a drug regimen that included not only preventatives for "pain, nausea, vomiting and breathlessness," but also something to take the edge off depression. In these days of fear over drug misuse, it can be difficult to get this kind of treatment, but talking to your doctor in advance could ease the way.
Write it down. Even if you are no longer able to speak for yourself, if you have written down your wishes clearly and put the document next to your bed in an easy-to-find place, there is less likely to be confusion, nor will others be so compelled to rush you to the hospital for unwanted emergency care.
No cardiopulmonary resuscitation. Bowie, Taubert speculates, must have clearly rejected, "physical, sometimes bone-breaking chest compressions, electric shocks, injections and insertion of airways," which he says is "only successful in 1% to 2% of patients whose cancer has spread to other organs in their body."
Find health-care professionals who see it your way. Bowie, Taubert says, was almost certainly able to rely on health care professionals whose attitudes were sympatico with his. Many of us aren't lucky enough to have a lot of choice, but we can certainly try. Medicare will help by paying your doctor to talk with you about your wishes for care in your final days.
Bowie's graceful departure from this life is a good argument for having not only a life well lived, but also a death well planned.
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