Scablands Sunday

OK, we’re actually in one of the wealthiest zip codes in the glittery end of the Atlantic Coast, but we just discovered the word “scablands,” which so aptly describes the areas where much of a long military career was whiled away, and we could not resist using it. Sure, there are scablands inland of us, but we’re in kind of anti-scablands. But there is no foul in unleashing one’s inner child sometimes.

Especially when one’s outer adult is up against unpleasant circumstances. The basic issue here is that a very good pair of parents, a blessing we’re keenly aware is far from universal, are at the stage of life where every day seems to bring a new hardship, a new limitation, and perhaps worst of all, a new indignity.

Ezekiel Emanuel, one of those guys who comes out of nowhere (well, not nowhere so much as a small cluster of eight private institutions of learning in the Northeast, who promise their graduates a sort of droit du seigneur over the serfs1), seems to think that a certain age is old enough, especially for the proles, and they ought to just be prepared to check out, optimally before Age 75. (Emanuel’s ideas are subtle and complex, often expressed in parables or thought experiments containing dilemmas requiring a physician or the public to balance or rank antagonistic and competing kinds of “good”. His ideas have been exaggerated by both supporters and opponents).

Life is harder for some people than for others, and it’s harder in some stages of life. There is no equality in suffering, no direct equivalency in consequences. Personal decisions (smoking is the classic example) can have consequences so deferred as to be intangible, and some may dodge the bullet entirely, which may be why people keep playing this chump’s lottery. But there’s no escape for the emphysema sufferer, even if there are treatments and medical devices available today that were unimaginable 10 years ago. Yet, today’s elderly grew up in an era where a doctor might advise a person to take up smoking. Far from the vilified criminal-class marker of today, it was thought to be a milepost to adulthood and a badge of sophistication.

One wonders what modern thing, that we now know and love, will turn out to be such a Judas as a simple cigarette was to the generations before us.

For the elderly, everything is an enemy. Your own physiology is no exception. Your lungs may fail, your skin break out in knobbly cancers, your kidneys give out after a lifetime of high blood pressure. Senses dim and fog. The earth itself turns on you; gravity becomes a deadly enemy for brittle bones. These things may not happen in isolation: you may indeed experience all of them. Life becomes a dreary routine of doctor visits and dialysis; medications and side effects; pain and effort.

And yet… and yet. And yet, joy springs from the light of the sun, the call of a nocturnal frog on the lawn (loud enough to penetrate the most elderly ocular system), the laugh of a child, a turn of phrase in a book.

As long as joy lights up a person’s world, even if there is only one part joy to ten parts suffering, who are we to do aught but support that person? As long as the thready beat of life exists, our parents are not helpless.

They have us.

May God be merciful with them.

 

Notes

  1. True, they can’t take the jus primae noctis (which doesn’t seem to have actually existed as a law anywhere; it seems to be an ancient version of an urban legend, given new life by revolutionaries looking to damn old systems; but we digress). Instead they just screw you metaphorically, all day every day.

12 thoughts on “Scablands Sunday

  1. Aesop

    Sincere sympathies.
    Both parents killed themselves with cancer sticks, 3 inches at a time for decades, which is how the resulting emphysema decades later shrunk their daily options.
    And when at last the lung tissue no longer avails, and the oxygen can’t be pumped at any concentration higher than 100%, the other indignities follow, as one’s inability to do for themselves in even the smallest ways infantilizes them at the end in a mirror of their life’s beginnings.
    The only thing positive to say about getting older, is that it beats the alternative.
    Right up until it doesn’t, and then one can only hope the transition is sudden, and relatively painless along the way.

  2. Bill K

    Amen, my mom is probably going within the next month, Dad’s been gone for a few years, and it’s tough when in your dotage you lose your other half. I seem to recall some medical article decades ago about how when the first one went, the other followed with a median of months, shorter than pure life expectancy would predict.

    But for you young ‘uns out there, in reference to One wonders what modern thing, that we now know and love, will turn out to be such a Judas as a simple cigarette was to the generations before us, here’s a potential candidate (http://www.bmj.com/content/349/bmj.g5205); any ever use of benzodiazepenes (antianxiety drugs like Valium & Xanax) may have a cumulative lifetime dose effect in accelerating Alzheimer’s.

    So it’s better not to worry too much about losing your mind – it might just be a self-fulfilling prophecy if you try the better living through chemistry approach.

  3. WiseCaveOwl

    one parent lived to be 95; the other is 100 and still going strong. I have things to do that will require a lifespan of at least 120. Rahm and his bro Ezekiel, OTOH, have my permission to check out immediately if not sooner

  4. Mark Harris

    Here’s my Mama “shooting some cans” with her young friend Carson. He was 6 and she was 94 when the picture was made. She will be 96 in January. Look up “Southern Matriarch” in the dictionary for another picture of her.

  5. GregT

    And as long as they have us, life is still good, or at the least tolerable.

    My Mom just passed, one month ago. Made it to 89 years, unlike Dad, who’s been gone since ’86. I pray that both have found peace at last. Dad did the emphysema, and the arteriosclerosis. Not much to be done back in the mid-’80’s. He just went his own way, refused any cutting, and said it’s time. Mom had years of misery, and we took care of her in the last decade or so.

    Life goes on.

  6. BelfastDoc

    Testing times ahead.
    The big finale of growing up, caring for your parents and support them on the path we’ll all have to go.
    Wishes and prayers to all of you.

  7. Y.

    Well put. Although you should perhaps replace ‘ocular’with ‘auditory’ system in the last part of the article..

    _____

    As someone aptly observed, everything finite is bearable.

    My grandma is 95 and (we assume) on her deathbed in a hospice. Probably has a brain tumor, or perhaps she’s had a mini-stroke, as her personality is a little different since last month and her autonomous body functions are way more erratic than before. Makes no difference, as either is not treatable.

    I’m not sure how my father is taking it, but we’ve been expecting something like this for years. There are worse ways to go.

    Yet, today’s elderly grew up in an era where a doctor might advise a person to take up smoking.

    I find that hard to believe. That smoking contributes to cancer has been known widely since the early 1950’s when a thorough epidemiological study was published. Similar research had been published in 1930’s in Germany(only in German though). I’m pretty sure that the less block-headed physicians have spotted the causal relationship earlier. Anyone performing an autopsy of a heavy smoker surely noticed the lungs looking nasty.

    That smoking impairs sports performance must’ve been spotted way earlier.

    1. Hognose Post author

      Hitler was actually an anti-smoking crusader, as well as a health nut himself. Stopped clock right twice a day and all that.

  8. Jim

    I’m in a similar situation – mom is 90, increasingly frail and with a bad ticker, but mentally sharp — Dad is 89, suffered a severe stroke a few years back, is blind, unable to walk or stand, and suffers from increasingly bad dementia/night terrors (not always at night, unfortunately). I’m filled with dread every time the phone rings.

    I share your sentiments to a T. Even at his worst, I’ve seen my Dad still able to smile — still able to summon a long-distance memory of a better time shared together, and still obviously in love with my Mom, a partnership that has reached more than 60 years. As long as the thread beat of life exists, indeed — well said. Well done. Thank you.

    1. Hognose Post author

      That’s kind of the whole alpha and omega of life, right there in your comment, Jim. Thanks for sharing it with us.

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