Friday, 19 June 2009

The Long Goodbyes

A couple of weeks ago I finished reading Mitch Albom's "The Five People you Meet in Heaven" and "Tuesdays with Morrie". Both are about dying. The book on Morrie Schwartz was also turned into a TV movie and I think it was called "The long goodbye". It's about a professor who was dying of Lou Gehrig's disease which is medically referred to as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). What is it? It is a slow death, where you eventually lost total control of all the muscles in your body. The last organ to go is the lungs - it will collapse and suffocate you. But Morrie chose to let the world experience his "pain", to let people learn how to deal with dying, so that they can start learning how to live. He was interviewed by Ted Koppel three times on national TV. And his former favourite student, Mitch, visited him every tuesday (flying in from Chicago to Washington everytime) to write a final thesis. Each week they talked about life (marriage, the world, feeling sorry for yourself, family, emotions ... and of course about death). Morrie's medical bill was huge but the advance from the book Mitch wrote helped to pay the bills.

And as they say, the only sure thing in life are taxes and death. We know we all want to stay alive. We want to prolong life even when we know the diseases are going to get you, eventually. Cancer. Anyone of you had never had a family member die from cancer? My mom died from a brain tumour, but she lived a long life (81 years, I think). My eldest sister died from cancer which spread from the gall (age 67). Another sister is fighting stomach cancer with chemo (now finished) and Qigong. My father-in-law died of lung cancer (from years of smoking when he was younger, aged 83). Just heard that a cousin-in-law is going through chemo AND radiotherapy for brain tumour and it is driving him crazy (and everyone else around him). The costs are even crazier. A single dose of chemo at Mt Miriam Hospital is RM500. And if you are stage four, the chemo can be everyday. First they try to operate. That will put you back 60,000 to 70,000 ringgit at a private hospital (blood-suckers, aren't they?). And whether they can remove every bit of the tumour or not, you still need chemo and radio-therapy, just in case. Most of the time, the battle was lost before it started - the doctor may tell you the success rate is like less than 30%. Why do we still do it? Because we want to prolong life.

But that's only cancer. What about dementia and alzhiemer? The old people's diseases, we always say that. These diseases just suck the life out of you, and leave you bedridden (for years!), unable to eat (patients eventually have to be fed liquids through tubes stuck into the nose), and you are totally oblivious to everything that goes on around you. But we still have to prolong life - only there is no quality of life. We always joke about it : "oh no, I'm getting alzhiemer!", whenever we forget stuff or don't remember names. When do you really know when it's coming? Can we stop it dead in it's track?

Shall I go on? Diabetes, stroke, kidney failure, heart attack ... They are the "rich man's" diseases. We put too many toxins in our bodies. Don't believe them when they tell you "don't worry, it's a safe level, approved by the government and the WHO and the FDA". Yes, they are all foodgrade poisons. Classic oxymoron.

Goodbye, Ah Poh
I hope the 5 people you meet in heaven bring back the memories.


Manji said...

I read both of the books too. I prefer '5 ppl u met in heaven' and the last person he met as that moment only he realised that he was something valuable contributing to the society, and not just an old guy took care of the ferris wheel.

PJ said...

i have read both books when i was at college. i think Tuesdays with Morrie touched me more than the 5 People You Meet In Heaven.

When I was little I used to asked a lot of questions about death. But I guess we wont' really know until the time comes, we just got to make the most of our short time here on earth.

My deepest condolences to Aunty MN and family. xx

Manji said...

besides that, there is one famous Japanese Drama based on real stories of a girl with degenrative brain disease- "1 litre of tears" which has quite similar story with tuesdays with Morris