About a year ago, I was bitten by a dog (Chihuahua/finger) and it got so quickly and deeply infected that I had to go into the hospital for three days of antibiotic drips. I’m all better now, but there was this rite-of-passage moment… I was checking into the emergency room and the nurse looked me square in the eye and asked if I had a DNR. For anyone who doesn’t know what that is, DNR stands for Do Not Resussitate – it means if your heart stops for any reason – even a reason that could be easily turned around, even if you’re in the hospital with all kinds of heart starting equipment – they won’t do CPR or a defibrillator. They just let you go.
I wish to God I’d had my wits about me enough to look that nurse square in her eye and say, “For a Chihuahua bite, you want a DNR!?” But I didn’t, I just shook my head and said softly, “No.” My darling daughter was with me and she said it louder, “No!” And then I said it again, even louder, “No!!!”
This is the first time a medical professional has ever asked me about a DNR. At 70, though, I think they have to. A part of me knows it’s a good question because there truly is a point where you just don’t want them to try. First up, this resuscitate stuff is not all it’s cracked up to be. If you’re not in a hospital and somebody just does CPR your chances of coming back are only about 13%. This falls off with age, but the odds remain pretty good (10% in your 50’s, 8.1% in your 60’s,7.1% in your 70’s) But at 80, your odds drop to 3.3%. And if you’re frail or have osteoperosis, they are going to break all kinds of bones doing CPR because you have to push violently hard to restart somebody’s heart. The changes of this ending you up dying in a hospital in great pain, out of your mind on drugs, are pretty hugh.
Ok, so, at 70, I still want them to try to bring me back. But that means in 10 years I’ve got to say no – unless I’m in amazing shape due to somebody’s grandchild inventing some cyber/bio/something for their 8th grade science project. Barring that, time is limited where I can go messing with chihuahuas in a cavalier manner.
Funny, the older I get the longer time- frames seem, that used to seem short. Like 10 years – that’s a lot of time.
This sure feels like a rite of passage but I always thought those were things that happened to the young. You survive a physical ordeal or your first period and you’re changed, you’re ready to assume life as an adult.
The DNR thing changed me. I didn’t realize it instantly, but when I got home I was definitely looking at things differently. Like cleaning house, I started thinking about that a lot. For instance, a few years ago, I bought a beautiful guitar from my sister who wasn’t playing it anymore. I put it in a special glass case above my desk where it has pretty much sat since I bought it. When I got home from the hospital I started being bothered by the guitar. First off, it’s huge. It is named after a kind of battleship, Dreadnaught. And though it sounds amazing when I play it, I don’t really play it very much. Guitar has never really been my instrument, my hands are too small, and now are beginning to get arthritis. So do I really need a guitar named for a battleship hanging over my desk demanding to be played for the next ten years!?
Same with Spanish. I should learn Spanish, such a beautiful language. I’ve had Spanish Rosetta Stone longer than the guitar, but I haven’t broken the seal on it. If I turn my back on the Dreadnaught, Rosetta glowers down at me from the shelf. My house is a museum of stuff I’m not going to do, all of it clambering for a piece of my precious 10 years. It surprises the hell out of me, but it’s not sad to think about parting with this stuff. I feel happy for the younger person who buys this amazing guitar and my unopened Rosetta Stone. But even more, I feel giddy at the notion of sweeping these things away. I haven’t swept anything away yet, but I’m seriously considering it. Seriously.
So what will I do with these years where I can move around without having to be so crazy careful? It’s fun to think about.
I’d like to do a Summer Solstice at Stonehenge, I think, and a few other things over there; I’d like to see Donatello’s David in person. But mostly I want to stick around home with family and friends. Peter is still running our company and lately I have been really loving working with him. It’s been 20 years since we last worked together and we are both so much smarter and more sane now. Working with him makes me feel satisfied with my journey/our journey. So I’ll keep doing that. I’m going to keep writing this blog. I’m going to have long interesting conversations with people I love. Lately Ive been starting my mornings sitting in the yard drinking a glass of water, sipping it down my newly awakened throat.
I fear this sounds like old lady stuff, but, being an old lady, I now see the glory in such things. Can you see it yet? This is much to be looked forward to.
All this puts me in mind of my old pal, Stephen Jenkinson, the Griefwalker guy who talks about how keeping death over our shoulders sweetens our lives. This DNR right of passage, surely pushed me to let go of things, many of them lovely, which have been standing in the way of my focusing on what’s important. The trance of “I’ve got time” is lifting for me and I like it. I swear to God, the next ten years stretch, luxuriously long, before me.
The documentary about Stephen Jenkinson’s work, Griefwalker, is still available on Netflix. Also, here’s an informative article about CPR and aging, https://newoldage.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/08/09/how-successful-is-cpr-in-older-patients/?_r=0
The art print “Pughenge” (above) is by Mike Holzer.
Originally posted 2017-02-03 05:01:48.