Sunday, May 21, 2017

Till death do us part

I walked around observing students talk through and write in response to the task that I had assigned. I stopped at every group's table.  Quick chats with students during these moments are yet another way that I try to connect with them.

"Are you an EMT?" I asked one because of the logo on the work clothes that he was wearing.

Teaching is so much about learning about the students.  They, too, learn about me--from my sense of humor to my intellectual pursuits to, heck, even about my daughter being a neurosurgeon.  It is almost like my classroom is also a blogging space for me, where I talk and listen instead of the writing and reading that I do here.

"A non-emergency guy," he replied.  "But, I know about emergency responses if situations arise."

"If I should have a cardiac arrest in this class, don't do anything.  I have a DNR," I told him.

"You have a DNR?  Why?"

"I have had a good life.  I am done," I replied with what I assumed was a pleasant face, fully knowing that my smiles don't get across.

"But, isn't he required to assist in an emergency? asked his groupmate.

He and I were in agreement--if he did, I could later sue him for bringing me back from the almost-dead.

Later, as I was driving home, I kept thinking about this interaction, and about how I became so embracing of death.

I think I understood death to be a natural process of life even when I was a kid.

My father was in the local hospital for hemorrhoid surgery.  Was I about eleven or ten at that time?  I went there during visiting hours.  The patient in the adjacent room was a boy about two years older than me.  He had blood cancer, and was dying.

I had known of grandfathers and others who were dead.   But, this was my first exposure to one who was dying.  And he was only two years older than me.

About four years later, I witnessed my grandmother's death.

During my train trips to and from the engineering college, I have often wondered what might happen if the train were to derail and I were to die.  I did not worry that I might die.
With every passing day, I find that such an approach to life and death is a contrast to how most people, and especially the medical profession, view life and death:
the attitude now towards disease and old age and death is that they are basically technical problems. It is a huge revolution in human thinking. Throughout history, old age and death were always treated as metaphysical problems, as something that the gods decreed, as something fundamental to what defines humans, what defines the human condition and reality.
Death and dying are not really viewed and treated as the human condition.
Maybe we still don't know all the mechanisms and all the remedies, but in principle, people always die due to technical reasons, not metaphysical reasons. In the middle ages, you had an image of how does a person die? Suddenly, the Angel of Death appears, and touches you on the shoulder and says, "Come. Your time has come." And you say, "No, no, no. Give me some more time." And Death said, "No, you have to come." And that's it, that is how you die.
We don't think like that today. People never die because the Angel of Death comes, they die because their heart stops pumping, or because an artery is clogged, or because cancerous cells are spreading in the liver or somewhere. These are all technical problems, and in essence, they should have some technical solution. And this way of thinking is now becoming very dominant in scientific circles, and also among the ultra-rich who have come to understand that, wait a minute, something is happening here. For the first time in history, if I'm rich enough, maybe I don't have to die.
This is a huge change in our attitude towards death.
Death is optional. And if you think about it from the viewpoint of the poor, it looks terrible, because throughout history, death was the great equalizer. The big consolation of the poor throughout history was that okay, these rich people, they have it good, but they're going to die just like me. But think about the world, say, in 50 years, 100 years, where the poor people continue to die, but the rich people, in addition to all the other things they get, also get an exemption from death. That's going to bring a lot of anger.
If everything goes according to plans, I won't be here to witness all that "development."

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