Monday, March 30, 2020

Be Prepared


The pandemic of covid-19 is provoking hard conversations in our small family, perhaps in yours, too.  Although we all hope to survive this malady unscathed with lots of hand-washing and sensible distancing, there is also a realistic possibility that some of us will contract the disease.  Almost all of us who get sick will suffer mild symptoms and get well.  (That’s the good news!)  But some of us may face more dire prospects.

This is a good time to think ahead and to prepare an advance directive. If you are unable to make your own health care decisions, designate a family member or trusted friend to be your legal proxy. Have a detailed conversation about your end-of-life wishes and values. File the necessary documents with your physician.  Would you want to be intubated and on a ventilator if necessary to keep you breathing?

Probably the answer is yes.  But personally, I remain unsure.  It depends on my chances of recovery.  Model living wills contain this language: “I direct my attending physician or primary care physician to withhold or withdraw life-sustaining medical care and treatment that is serving only to prolong the process of my dying if I should be in an incurable or irreversible mental or physical condition with no reasonable medical expectation of recovery. I direct that treatment be limited to measures which are designed to keep me comfortable and to relieve pain, including any pain which might occur from the withholding or withdrawing of life-sustaining medical care or treatment.”  

I think that almost all of us prize autonomy, our ability to make the choices that most affect our own lives and deaths.  Make a living will, or better yet, a durable power-of-attorney for health care that will offer you the most control over your own goodbyes.  

Talk with your doc.  And whomever you designate as your medical power-of-attorney, just tell them to follow the golden rule.  Do the compassionate thing.


Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Don't Just Do Something ...

When I was young, a top forty tune by the Statler Brothers glamorized the art of doing nothing:

Countin' flowers on the wall
That don't bother me at all
Playin' solitaire till dawn with a deck of fifty-one
Smokin' cigarettes and watchin' Captain Kangaroo
Now don't tell me I've nothin' to do

Captain Kangaroo is a memory, but otherwise cultivating quietude is a lesson we’re re-learning lately.  With so much in lockdown and quarantine, what shall we do?

The answer is to adorn time.  Listen to music.  Read a book.  Watch the birds.  Take a walk and look for signs of spring.  With church services cancelled, create a bit of sabbath in your daily routines: focus on being rather than doing.

Covid-19 is here and, as individuals, there is much we must simply accept.  With luck and lots of hand washing, we’ll be okay.  In the interim, make friends with yourself and remember …

Don’t just do something.  Sit there.   

Thoughts in a Time of Pandemic

Covid-19 has distanced us but also brought us closer.  Though some populations are more at risk than others, we realize that we are all vulnerable, all mortal, all in need of the social fabric of nurses, shopkeepers, first responders, postal workers, teachers, check out clerks, and civil servants who in ordinary times we take for granted, but whose importance is manifest in moments like these.  We understand that “thinking globally” is more than a slogan but a public health necessity when fighting a virus that has no respect for borders or national boundaries.  We see the worst in people (not just panic hoarding of toilet paper but of guns and ammo) yet also the best, in millions of citizens quietly adapting and changing daily habits to guard the common good (reminding us of Camus’ words from The Plague that “what we learn in time of pestilence is that there is more in human nature to admire than to despise.”)  We’ve traded elbow bumps for handshakes.  We know that we are in this together, even when apart.  

Unlike 9/11, when frightened people packed their churches and synagogues, houses of worship like mine are temporarily empty.  But now, as then, our hearts are full: filled with a heightened awareness of our co-humanity, our interdependence, our resolve to be among the healers and the helpers who will ultimately see us through.