Thursday, May 17, 2007

What’s a Good Way to Die?

I’m going to a funeral in a few days – the first time for me. It’s for my friend, Kate, whom I worked with when we were both foreign correspondents in Seoul over 10 years ago. She was 64 and died of bowel cancer. I went to see her last month in Sydney when I heard she had cancer and had weeks to live. I hadn’t seen her in three years. The first thing I noticed was that she had HUGE eyes. I mentioned this to someone who said it was like Holocaust victims in documentaries – they all have huge eyes because the rest of their bodies have shrunk so much.

Kate was a tough, feisty, hard-working, hard-drinking, chain-smoking journalist like those classic war correspondents portrayed in the movies. To see her so frail and weak was a bit of a shock to me. I was in Sydney for a week but only got to see her once for 30 minutes because she was too tired or in too much pain to see visitors the rest of the time. She said she was on very strong painkillers and had extra doses that she could take if the pain got too bad. About a week after I left her, she was readmitted to the hospital because the pain got too bad to manage at home. Three days before her death, a friend went to see her in the hospital and she told him to “fuck off”. She was in so much pain that she couldn’t even see anyone and didn’t want anyone to see her in that state.

Kate has covered major wars from the trenches, was kidnapped by the North Vietnamese during the Vietnam War, and dragged by the hair and almost scalped in Afghanistan. If anyone could endure pain, she could. The pain must’ve been very bad. Maybe it’s like being slowly tortured to death like prisoners-of-war in the movies. The kind of pain that would make veteran soldiers spill state secrets. The kind that completely blinds you to anything else. The kind that no one ever comes back from.

And last month, my neighbor’s father died of pancreatic cancer just three months after diagnosis. She told me her father was in sheer agony for the last days of his life. Nothing like the peaceful, calm way they die in the movies, holding a loved one’s hand, saying something poetic, then gently closing the eyes. Apparently, he was writhing in pain and suffered a slow, tortured, agonizing death. It seems like the entire family’s been completely traumatized by the experience of seeing him like that.

I don’t ever want to get to the point of feeling pain above everything else. But how do I do this then? If I get to the point where nothing more can be done for me medically and the doctors can’t even manage the pain enough to let me die quietly, can I just kill myself? But then people would criticize me for being a coward. And I don’t want my kids to think their mother was a coward. On the other hand, do I just suffer through days or weeks of sheer agony – the physical pain as well as the pain of watching everyone around me witness such harrowing scenes of torture and agony? What’s a good way to do this?

The best answer to how I want to die is: suddenly. Unfortunately, cancer doesn’t afford that luxury. Maybe I’ll get lucky and get hit by a meteorite before cancer gets a second chance.

1 comment:

zorop said...

this reminds me of a show i'd watch 'dead like me' where a girl was killed by a 'meteorite'- a toilet seat from a destroyed spacecraft. just a 2 minutes clip.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ugWpj88EWt4