The Art of Dying
It is a fact of life that you begin to think about the art of dying when you check your last
medical report and your ailments look like a Chinese restaurant menu. Mine looks like
Not that I need to check it. I know every minute how I feel because my loyal servant,
pain, keeps me perfectly informed of what is happening with my body. It also taught me
that there are many different types of pain. It all depends on where in your body you
are feeling this or that pain.
Let's say I want to check myself right now. My legs are telling me that the day of
reckoning is not far away. The technical name for this ailment is Peripheral Vascular
Disease, which means that my legs’ veins are being clogged by my perennial enemy,
tobacco. I know that these prongs of fire inside the bottom of my feet will do nothing
but grow in the following months. I have had these symptoms for the last eleven years,
so I do not care much about this minor pain.
Not that I could do anything meaningful about it even if I wanted to; if I call my doctor to
complain that I cannot stand it anymore, this is what would happen, as it has happened
often in the past:
I would have to wait about 20-30 minutes trying to get in touch with some human being
at my doctor’s office. While waiting, I would be told that I should call a local ambulance
service if I feel like I’m dying, or if not, that so many people are feeling like me or worse
at this very minute, that I better take a seat and watch the clouds going by.
If lucky, I will finally get a human voice. This lady will get me an appointment in about
two to three weeks with my personal physician. As this man and I know quite well what
my problem is, by the time I see him he will be nice enough to make me wait for about
90 minutes before giving me all of the 15 minutes that he is allowed for each patient.
After a polite chat, he will give me some papers that allow me to look for a specialist.
As I already know this specialist, it will take another 30 minutes to try to reach his office
by phone before I get an appointment a month later.
When I see this specialist at his office, he will be a man so short of words that I will
learn nothing about my ailment and how it is getting worse, but I will get an Rx for some
yellow pills. I have those yellow pills right now. So, why should I make all those phone
Well, I could remember that these men cost me and my employer more than $400.00 a
month. That’s 40 days of life for a worker in my native land. I would also remember that
it is now more than 25 years that we are playing these stupid games, my doctors and
me. And I also would remember that the only time I really needed an ambulance, it was
my wife who took me to the nearest hospital. More than anything else, I’d keep in mind
that everything went well then and I am still here 12 years after a quadruple bypass.
Or did it go so well? What I remember of that time is that I had three angina episodes
while waiting for a doctor to come and see me. I remember that I had to wait about 15
hours before I met the team that saved my life. I spent that time in line with other
people waiting in beds, stretchers, old sofas, and wherever possible… waiting, waiting,
and waiting. I also remember I felt pity for my legs when I saw how these men had
pulled my veins out to make new ones for my chest. I do not remember any pain after
The cost of that operation was more than $40,000.00. As my employer and I had paid
more than $120,000.00 up to then, I did not believe it was expensive until I heard it can
be done for about $12,000.00 in my native land. But, of course, how many people
have that kind of money down there? I must say I am very happy with my quadruple
bypass. I have never had any chest pain since then.
Now about those veins pulled out of my legs… They feel like fire when it is cold outside
and like leather when it is not.
I wouldn’t say this is pain, exactly. It is something more like… how can I say this? My
legs cannot stand the feeling of my pants. The best thing to do then is to walk around
the house naked from the waist down. In time, this feeling will go away and I will be able
to wear my pants again. Heavy pants are out of the question, of course. These must
be light, so I cannot go outside when it is snowing.
I cannot go outside, anyhow, because my head has changed with time, and I do not
know if I like the way my head works today. I wear hearing aids, you see, because I am
deaf on my left side and almost deaf on the other side. Not that I do not hear anything.
I hear a lot of noises, voices, music and even songs in there. I have Tinnitus, about
which nothing new has been discovered since 1908. I also have a very hateful case of
allergy, although I am not sure what I’m allergic to. My eyes water all the time, I sneeze
every 15 minutes and people hate to be around people that sneeze every 15 minutes.
I hate my dentures also, so I do not use them. I have one tooth left and people hate to
see people with only one tooth left. The only thing they did not change in my face is
my nose, and I hate my nose. It sweats, it is fat and it keeps growing all the time.
Now, of course I would love to tell you about my case of Coronary Artery Disease, my
Hyperlipidemia, my GERD (Gastro-esophageal Reflux Disease), my Allergic Rinitis, my
Nicotine Dependence, my Peripheral Vascular Disease, my Cancer of the Skin, My
Colon Polyp (which is Adenomatheus), and my Hearing Loss (which is Sensorineural),
but somehow I feel that you have had enough by now of my ailments. How do you think
I feel, after eleven years of walking around with all those illnesses inside?
Well, I do not feel so bad because, among my duties as a househusband (what else
could I be?), I walk every morning to a nearby market to buy our food and I see a
collection of people of old age that really help me feel optimistic and happy for a while,
if only because I compare my fate with what I see.
I see people that need a contraption with four little wheels to get there. I see people
that spend all their time looking down at the tip of their shoes because they cannot
stand erect anymore. I have seen an old lady who could not stop her car in time and
smashed her 1945-something against another old lady and a wall, and I see a
grandma that hates cigarettes and goes along these streets picking up every cigarette
butt with a long metal tool, then takes all her butts of the day to a trash bin right in
front of the market entrance. I have seen a man without a leg and another man without
both legs. What can I say? It seems that this third age is not for cowards, as they wrote
I can say I hate the idea of becoming like these people. I can also say that I see that
very day coming soon. Let us say I lose my sight now. I have cataracts, did I tell you?
And I have this thing that makes my eyes weep all the time. If I lose sight and hearing,
will I be a prisoner inside my own skull? Where can I find somebody with whom I could
talk about these fears?
And what’s more, why is nothing about these fears written anywhere? Why is it next to
impossible to find help for these fears? Why are doctors pushing thousands, hundreds
of thousands and millions of people to reach this hateful old age? There are whole
cities made of these old people around here. Only a real minority of these old folks
can afford to “enjoy” their age. You see the rest alone, poor, forgotten by their
siblings, buying dog food every morning and walking like ghosts along those ten
damned blocks from the market to their empty apartments.
So, I am saying it is time to begin working on the art of dying. I believe doctors should
help me and people like me and of course people older than me to learn this art and to
go, as they say (those who say this never know what they are talking about) with
“dignity” instead of spending this long hell alone, mute and desperate, unable to help
ourselves and just pretending, as it is always said, that everything is “OK” when
nothing is, anymore.
I came to the US in 1980, became a citizen in 1990 and hoped to die before 2010, and
I swear to God that I would like to have some control over this stupid business that is
also the most natural process on earth, dying as you choose to die.
It seems that my new countrymen are so afraid of this topic that I will never have a
chance to die as I choose. Things are so bad that, if I ever dare to speak like this to
my doctor, he would send me to a nuthouse without appeal. Things have gotten to the
point of being so ridiculous that you wouldn’t believe all this, unless you remember this
is my naked, everyday reality.