The Right to Live
And the Right to Die

I realize that not everyone is like me, which is a blessing for all of you.  Nonetheless, one of the many differences between us is that we do not share the same birthday.  However, George Burns and I do.  January 20 is our birthday even though we were not born in the same year.  I do not recall when I noticed phenomenon of our nativity, but I have been aware of it since my early teens.  I have written about George and I arguing about which one of us was responsible for the government starting to inaugurate presidents on our birthday.  He maintained until his death that he was the reason.


George Burns

Additionally, George wanted to entertain at the Palladium in London on his 100th birthday.  While he was not able to entertain an audience in London, he did reach his milestone and several weeks beyond.  Since he and I share the same birthday, I want not only to reach my 100th birthday, but I also want to live at least a day longer than he was alive.  My goal is to get to my 100th birthday and then to reach March 10, 2043, which would mean that I outlived George by a day. 

You might laugh, but that is a goal of mine.  I exercise nearly every day and have for years.  I ran cross-country in high school and college even though I was a starter.  I have put tens of thousands of miles on a stationary bike that I had for years.  I was nearly 60-years-old when I did the Ragbrai, which is a 450-mile race across Iowa.  I still exercise an hour a day on a bike around the subdivision or do the same in a kayak around the lake.

Therefore, while outliving George Burns might seem a silly notion to some of you, I am serious.  I am also aware of some impediments to my goal of longevity.  My mother had many medial problems and died in her early 50s due ultimately to lupus after being ill for decades.  My father had a double bypass six months after her death and was not well for the remaining years of his life.  Trust me; therein lies an incentive to exercise, eat correctly, and not to smoke.

In additionally, in the past seven years, I have danced with death twice.  One dance was a quick one.  I fell off a ladder causing a subdural hematoma, which is a traumatic brain injury.  In a couple of months, I recovered and was functioning well.  The other dance was with prostate cancer.  That dance was different and lasted for several years.  The cancer had gotten out of the prostate and came back a couple years later.  Then I went through four months of hormone therapy and two months of radiation.  I have had my PSA tested twice a year for four years, and I am still clean of cancer.  I now have to have my PSA tested only annually.

Dancing with death is a motivator.  I have talked with my kids about my parents, my dances, and about outliving George Burns.  They know all the details of my various talks.  As much as I want to outlive Burn, I want to live, but I do not want to be a vegetable.  Being a vegetable is not living merely to have tubes going in and out of me without any hope of recovering.  Now, there are people on the radical right on social issues that want to prolong life even the life of a human vegetable.  Of course, they were never in the vegetative state.  Karen Quinlan lived in a vegetative state for a decade.  For what?

While recovering from the fall, which resulted in a traumatic brain injury, I was in the ICU ward for four weeks.  I do not recall the fall, going to the hospital, or being there.  I could talk with my family, but I do not recall a nanosecond of it.  I was in a rehab hospital for three weeks.  The first half of that hospitalization, I do not recall anything either. 

However, as a started to recover, I do recall the last 10-days at that hospital.  I had to wear a helmet to protect my brain since the surgeon took a part of my skull out to allow my brain to swell outwardly. 


This is similar to my helmet. 

While all the procedures from a medical standpoint were normal, it was the closest that I have ever come to feeling like a vegetable.  When I went to sleep, they put me in a large bag, which was like a sleeping bag.  I had mesh to allow air and light into the bag.  I did not like the feeling of being zipped up like some sort of bag of potatoes.  However, I was so out of it that I just did what they told me.  Let me assure you that was not a pleasant feeling. 


This is something similar to the bed.

While this was a normal medical procedure and a normal human response for anyone having a head injury due to a fall, I am adamant about going through that type of life due to some other incurable medical problem that I might experience in the future.  Vegetating like that for months or years until I died is not living.  Additionally, someone else does not have the right to decide what my ending days, months, or years will be like.  It is my life not theirs.  I am glad that even though my dance with death was not at the level of situations like Quinlan, it did teach me a lesson that I needed to learn.  It is also something that the rest of the world needs to consider.  Living life but merely vegetating.    

There are two reasons for my position regarding rejecting being treated like a vegetable.  The first is that I do not wish to put my family through a situation, which merely postpones an imminent death.  That dance is not necessary for them.

The second reason is that I do want to live as long as I can, but vegetating is not living.  I want to outlive George Burns, but if some medical issue arrives in some future day, which would result in living life as if I were subhuman, pull the plug.  I am fully aware of the various medical complications related to pulling the plug.  In many cases, the medical professionals put the plug in during an operation even though at that point in time whether the patient will have a normal life after recovery.  I get that.  Put the plug in if the doctors believe that I have a chance.  However, after I recover and I am not me, I do not want to live life as a vegetable.

Interestingly, California just passed the End of Life Option Act.  California joins Oregon, Vermont, Washington, and Montana in various forms of physicians assisted euthanasia.  Slowly, Americans are waking up to the reality about giving people the right to decide about dying.

The Last Lecture

The Last Lecture

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Dancing with Death

Dancing with Death

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