Reintroducing the Art of Healing and the Art of Dying (Letting Go)

Reintroducing the Art of Healing and the Art of Dying (Letting Go)

In today’s world, medical technology has developed to such an extent that it can greatly intervene and save many lives. Got into an accident? ‘We’ll save you! We have the medicine and the machines to make sure you are still breathing!’ Born premature and in poor health? ‘We can revive and make sure the baby lives!’ Have a terminal illness? ‘Don’t lose hope – here are all your options and we can do this treatment and that treatment…’ Getting ‘old’? ‘There are treatments that we can provide in order to prolong your life!’

Dying is an inevitability; but the definition of the term ‘dying’ has become muddled. Are you dying when you have a terminal illness? Should you be left to die if you got into an accident, and are very severely injured? Would you be dying without medical intervention, or would you be ‘actually’ dying when all medical intervention and care fails?

The case of Sara Monopoli in Atul Gawande’s argues the reintroduction of what doctors should pertain to do: ‘heal’. When a treatment is only going to leave a patient more fatigued, tired and infested with so many side effects – are the doctors really acting in the interest of the patient? Are the doctors really abiding to healing and easing the patient’s pain?
Too many people in the world today overestimate the power of medical technology – yes it can save lives when done right; but not every medical case is like the other and a doctor is not God.
Sara was a ‘fighter’, but ultimately did she get to die in the place, or the way she had wanted to? Sara and her family placed and invested all their hopes in the success of her treatment, but can we possibly think Sara had enough time with to spend with her family, as the treatments took so much of her time? Can we possibly think Sara died happy and content?

Sara’s case is not the first case that has ended unhappily even after extensive medical interference. What should doctors and the medicine industry really be doing when it can no longer save a person’s life?
Hospice care is shining star in medicine. Hospice refocuses on providing the ‘quality’ of life to patients – it discusses what can be done to reduce pain and still allow patients to be able to go around do daily activities of life and at the same time, be able to spend time with family and loved ones.
Doctors, should be able to sit down with families and patients and discuss the treatments available, and also the treatments side-effects etc. Doctors should request patients to discuss what they’d prefer, instead of ‘recommending’ the patient on the ‘best discourse to follow’. Ultimately doctors should stop overestimating the success of alleged treatments and miraculous patients, and be realistic with themselves and with the patients and the patient’s family.

‘What’s broken can always be fixed, what’s fixed will always be broken.’ This paradoxical statement attempts to explain that doctors and loved ones should know when to stop forcing treatments on a patient when it is causing more deterioration and strain on the patient then showing positive outcomes. When nothing else can be done to save one’s life, doctors should just focus on helping patient’s cope with their pain and help ease the pain too.

As a society too, people have to start thinking: are you really living when you are hooked up onto multiple medical instruments and medicine? If that is no way to live, then is that a proper way to die?

Reminder: Living the moments is more essential. Quality of life over the quantity is more essential.

Black Mirror’s “Be Right Back” episode – portrayal of a death denying culture.

It’s so much easier to enjoy life, to think of ideas on making our existence greater, to dream about and work on accomplishing great heights while we’re living the years we do; it is so much more easier to think about children, lovers, and a stable career then to think of that one thing that our culture today has tried to sweep under rugs. This reality is always on the tip of our tongues, but we manage to disbelieve it and keep it buried deep down in the pit of our stomachs.

What is this reality? People are born, and people die too. But death, the greatest loss that people fear for self and for loved ones is an occurrence that most would like to defy. Death is inevitable, it’s universal, it can happen at anytime to anyone, yet death is something that is too taboo to talk about in our culture. Our culture, a death denying culture. We seek ways to prolong life, and to delay death. The products we own today are largely hazard-free and accident proof. Our medical technology has excelled in such a manner that people can add almost a year or two to their declining lives.

If death is universal, something that will definitely happen – why isn’t our culture more open to talking about it? Why do we fear death? Why do we try to defy it’s presence?

One of my favorite British shows, titled Black Mirror portrays weird, intriguing, futuristic stories in each of it’s individual episodes. The opening episode of Season 2 “Be right back” perfectly en-captures the extent of our death denying culture, and also discusses how far people are willing to go to keep someone they love around, rather than bear the loss of their presence.

The story in this episode revolves around a young married couple, Ash and Martha who have had just recently moved into Ash’s childhood house – an hour away from the main city amidst mountains and farms. After a day or so of moving in and settling down, Ash has to go to the city to run some errands. Martha stays in the house, and awaits Ash’s return in the evening. When he fails to show up late at night, she starts to worry. Soon she hears police sirens outside the house, and opens the door to cops bearing the news of Ash’s death.

Martha loved him deeply and fiercely and couldn’t bear the absence of him. Everything in his house reminded her of him. At his funeral, one of her friend’s, who had also lost a husband previous to Martha losing Ash, refers Martha to a software program that would allow Martha to talk to the “dead” Ash.

Initially, Martha rebukes the idea of this crazy software. But the loss of Ash was driving her deeper into depression, that she decided on an impulse to use the program that would bridge her to Ash. She purchases the program, and connects all of Ash’s social media pages to the program. The program registers every word Ash has had used in his social media life, either to the public or via public messages. Soon Martha is able to chat with the virtual Ash. She finds that the pretend Ash chats with her in the same manner real Ash would. She keeps this chat process going on for a long time, and one day the program displays a pop-up window telling that she could take communication with Ash to the next level – all she had to do was attach every video Ash had ever recorded and upload it to the program. Desperate to get more of the virtual Ash, she does as asked. The software then calls her on her phone, and Martha picks up the call and the virtual Ash greets her. At this point Martha breaks down and awes at how much the software Ash sounded like her real Ash. Martha then enters this crazy phase where she would never leave her phone, would take it everywhere – just to be able to hear Ash talking to her. One day she dropped her phone, and it shattered. Martha was in hysterics at this point. She was greedy for more of Ash.

Once her phone was fixed, “Ash” tells her she can take his presence to the greatest level. And our death-denying Martha takes it to the next level. A life-size robot that feels human and looks and talks exactly like Ash is shipped to her house. Martha and the hyper-realistic Ash start spending a lot of time together. To Martha, the emptiness that the death of real Ash left in her chest was starting to fill in by the presence of the software Ash. But one can only deny a loved one’s death for so long. Martha starts noticing that the software Ash would do whatever she asked, and never fight or defy her opinions. One day while climbing a cliff, she asks the software Ash to jump of the cliff and initially he is willing – and that’s when Martha screams “You’re not him! You never will be.” This is the moment of clarity for Martha – for her selfish reasons she wanted to keep whatever of Ash she could. She didn’t want to accept the irreversibility of his death, the absence of his existence.

Truth be told, if a software like this existed in our society today, many would buy it. We don’t want to die, we don’t want our loved ones to die. Our death-denying culture wants ourselves and our loved ones to be forever living, and immortal. Coping with death, is something our society as a whole has to still learn.

The media today displays death and its occurrence and effects in differing mannerisms – sometimes extremely misleading, sometimes almost nonchalantly . This episode from Black Mirror, though a little exaggerated, is very accurate when portraying some of the ways people try to cope after a loved ones death. Death of a loved one, leaves one desperate, sad, numb, empty. The list of emotions are endless.

The language our society uses to refer death tries to hide the heaviness of it’s reality too. “He’s with God now”; “She’s at peace” etc. are just some catch-phrases people use instead of ever mentioning the forbidden “dead” word. Language and the media reinforce our pretend oblivion to death and promote our society as a death denying culture.