The 99th Monkey

One man's spiritual quest—and his continuous and utter failure to find the answers.

Grim Reaper, M.D.

Is it me, or is every health care facility I take my elderly parents to secretly intent on killing them off? As a culture, we have moved from death as the ultimate taboo, through a stage of speaking openly about the dying process, all the way to the opposite position: “Death? No worries, mate, why keep putting it off?" Read More

Great read!!

Wow! Can't believe the doctor of your father began talking about end of life when all he seemed to need were fluids. Amazing. I can't help but feel that sort of thing should be criminal.

This post has a balanced, humorous, and genuine perspective. Shows that a bit of common sense (that many people might dismiss as obviously NOT common due to medical professionals omitting it) really can go a long way. Great lesson.

dr. groucho

I love the picture of Groucho Marx here -- it seems to capture the slightly zany, slightly inane encounters you had with your parents' docs (including Dr. McReal -- you'd think he'd have changed his name before going into practice). As someone whose instinct is to assume doctors do too much, with too much technology and too many heroics, I'm forced to rethink some of my beliefs when reading about how your folks were treated.

Another 90-year-old, the esteemed Dr. Arnold Relman of Boston, fell down the stairs, too, and wrote a long piece about it in this past week's New York Review of Books. What made his story especially interesting to me is that his wife, who was by his side during all his surgery and rehab, was one of the leaders of the effort in Massachusetts to pass a ballot initiative legalizing assisted dying.

I'm so glad to discover this blog! I'm also a Psych Today blogger -- happy to make your acquaintance.

Dr Groucho

hi Robin! I'll check out your blog--thanks for responding, Best, Eliezer

Your Dad's lucky. Last time I

Your Dad's lucky. Last time I went for a teeth cleaning, my wife told them to "pull the plug"


Mike's dentist

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH! Thanks Mike, that was hilarious.

Best, Eliezer


Oh God.
Maybe I should have taken mom to the hospital and asked for a drip. And she was still on her morning dose of baby aspirin.
No morphine, but anti-anxiety drops when she would get to shaking and fretting anxiously as evening came on.
And sleeping pills -- well, she always took those. Me too.

E, your piece is so important and so true and I am in awe and horror at how you nailed the prevailing DIE AND LET DIE, ALREADY climate on aging, declining and dying.

And now I am craving a dose of something more fun than morphine, and less mindful than meditation.

Do you remember my telling you that when my mom suddenly began behaving even stranger than her already strange trajectory, I had to bully the home Hospice nurse into testing a urine sample? And that mom had a really bad urinary tract infection? And then I had to bully the nurse into following up the course of antibiotics she provided with another urine test, (the results of which I finally wrestled from the nurse two weeks later), that showed that the UTI (probably there for a long long time) had not gone away? When I asked for another round of antibiotics, the Hospice nurse demurred, explaining that Hospice "does not usually consider antibiotics for urinary tract infections to be part of palliative care." Sitting on my mom's couch with me, she held my hand and told me that with a really bad urinary tract infection, the patient ends up eventually "just going to sleep and not waking up, which is a really gentle way to die."

This was breaking (literal and heart-breaking) news to me. As calmly as I could (this was no time to risk an "in denial" dismissal), I noted (admittedly tensely but not loudly, not in a noticeably crazy voice, I don't think) that mom was not dying of anything, not in pain from anything, but in physical and mental discomfort from the fucking (I did not use that word) urinary tract infection. Please, I told the nurse, order the damn (I did not use that word) antibiotic.

And she did. Right away. Within an hour Bradley Pharmacy delivered to our front door (I had to sign for it in two places on the receipt) a 10-day megadose of the antibiotic the urine test indicated my mom's strain of bacteria was sensitive to. And a 10-day maintenance dose as a precautionary follow-up.

Two days after starting the antibiotics, mom woke up dead (Or, rather, according to the overnight caregiver, woke up, took her morning pills, went back to sleep and somehow stopped breathing at some point between the time the caregiver went upstairs to use the bathroom and came down and discovered this problem at 8 a.m. Tuesday, Dec. 17, 2013 (The exact time intervals involved were never clear, and I periodically find (or lose) myself obsessing on those blanks and spiraling into the magical thinking of what ifs... before reining in my brain with the mantra: MOM'S DEAD; PERIOD. (This is not nearly as calming as following my breath nor as fun as flying a chicken, and I don't think I am ascending any jhanas. No I am definitely not in jhana-ville.)

The remaining18 days of antibiotics are still in their alotted green compartments on the MON a.m., TUE a.m, WED a.m, THU a.m, FRI a.m, SAT a.m SUN a.m, side of the three weekly dispensers we got at CVS (on sale!), and the pink compartments on the MON p.m., TUE p.m, WED p.m., THU p.m, FRI p.m., SAT p.m., SUN p.m. side of the dispensers.
... along with the a.m. baby aspirins and Folbic acid pills and the p.m. sleeping pills and anti-anxiety pills.

Perhaps the magical thinking is not done with me yet.

With love and gratitude, and a really bad headache.

re: From Judy

Who IS this???


SO WHO SHOULD IT BE? How many of your dearest friends' mothers died Dec. 17, 2013?
Or was that a metaphysical question? In which case, your guess is as good as mine.


As an RN for 40 plus years I have been exposed to people of all ages and all conditions. I always worked in critical care areas, the last 19 years in the Recovery Room. This is one nurse's take on your blog.
I can never forget the 90+ year old man who was brought into the Recovery Room after minor surgery, for a feeding tube. I have nothing against feeding tubes, but when the patient has black urine coming out of the Foley catheter, and his body is so swollen he looks like the marshmallow guy from Ghostbusters, and he is in a vegetative state, no response to any stimuli, my gut reaction is "WHY?"
This was far from an isolated incident, and I would come home and cry. Thank goodness Charley is a psychotherapist.
ON THE OTHER HAND, I have taken care of myriads of people ( is that correct English, my writer friend?) who, in their 80's, 90's, even a few 100's, despite some confusion, are awake, talking, (or not) but communicating, sometimes only with their eyes. That always warmed my heart, and my "why" lay quietly in the background.
I can hear your frustration, and TOTALLY understand it. Your dad would have received that glass of water (or IV) from me.

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Eliezer Sobel is an author, musician, and retreat leader.


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