Dying in Oregon. And Kentucky.

From 2011.

When I started this blog, I told you most of the time it was just for me to rant about silly things like people misusing their iPhones or such nonsense.  I also said occasionally I would get serious.  Well, here tiz.

If any of the parties involved in this writing should EVER find their way to this writing, I hope they see the respect with which it is written.

Earlier this week, I had set my Tivo to pick up a documentary on HBO about physician-assisted suicide in Oregon.  It’s legal there.  I love documentaries anyway, and thought this one might have something to offer.  I had no idea.

Ironically, on Friday, Dr. Jack Kevorkian died.  Dr. Jack, in his brusque, cranky way, was the poster child for this subject for years, ultimately serving seven years in prison for aiding at least 130 people to end their lives.  Then, on Saturday, my Tivo served up to me ‘How To Die In Oregon‘.  And I fell in love.

Cody Curtis

Cody Curtis

Her name is/was Cody Curtis.  She was 54 years old when she chose to end her suffering from liver cancer on December 7, 2009.  Basically my age.  She would probably have been in the next class had we gone to high school together.

This documentary focuses on a lot of people.  To be frank, most of them are older, 80 or above and in obvious pain and suffering.  But quickly, Cody becomes the centerpiece for the film.  I would love to ask the director if that was the original design.

You become attached to her because at first glance in the film, you’d never guess there was anything wrong with her.  Then begins the slow, painful process of the last months of her life portrayed (and shared) on film.  The good days.  The bad days.  The unexpected days where everything seems normal.  The rapid onslaught toward the end, and even the realization that making it to Christmas won’t be realized.  It is tragic.  It is heartfelt.  It is everyday life around this world of ours.

Ruth Ann Owen

Ruth Ann Owen

In 1990, my mother Ruth Ann Owen was diagnosed with multiple myeloma.  It is one nasty cancer that affects the plasma cells in the bloodstream.  It affects the skeletal structure as well.  After experiencing back pain for several months, my mother went to the doctor.  She was placed in the hospital, diagnosed, bombarded with radiation on her spine, and never walked on her own again.  Three and a half painful years later, she died.  A slow, agonizing death.  Having been stuck in a hospital bed in the dining room of her home.  Not having seen the upstairs since the day she went to the hospital nearly 1300 days earlier.

Let me say here and now, I would never have advocated this procedure for my mother.  On more than one occasion she cried out for the end and begged for death.  It wasn’t available.  So she was subjected to countless trips to the hospital where she would artificially be restored to some form of ‘normalcy’, and sent back home.  I would not have advocated it.   But I don’t think I should judge it as an option.  And had it been available and she asked for it, I honestly can’t tell you how I would have reacted.

I remember my mother’s last hospital trip.  It was obvious she was in such pain and suffering and there was nothing any of us could do.  I remember being in the emergency room as the doctors administered to her.  By this time, I don’t think she knew my dad or myself.  Her last words that made any sense, “I want my dog”, referring to Nikki, the Bichon who had kept her company all those years.  I’m grateful that the last thing I heard from her was about something that had made her happy through the sickness.

Less than a day and a half later, she died in intensive care.  I remember seeing her vitals start to slip.  I remember asking a nurse about a time frame, and they said about an hour.  They were right on target.  The last moments are singed into my brain.  I remember going home to tell my grandmother, nearly 90 at the time, that her daughter was gone.  And I remember the sense of ‘its finally over’.

I relived that saga with Cody and I fell in love with her during it.  I also fell in love with her family for having the courage and the dignity to allow the filming of her journey.  I would love to shake her husband’s hand some day and thank him.  And to thank her kids.  This is a brave bunch.

I also fell in love with the others in this film.  From the gentleman who promised to chase his Seconol cocktail with a beer, to the radio/TV guy who refused to have his voice box removed.  (Kind of identified with him.  He said he WAS his voice, and he’d die with it!  And he did.)

This is an emotional subject.  Usually it is argued against for religious reasons.  But it truly boils down to whether one group has the right to tell another how they can live, (and yes end) their lives.

If you are against the concept, it may not change your mind.  That’s your right.  But in an age where we can’t stand to see our pets suffer, but advocate suffering in our fellow human beings, this story deserved to be told.  And it was told in a magnificent way in this film.

‘How To Die In Oregon’ won the Best Documentary category at Sundance.  Regardless of your current feelings, you owe it to yourself to watch it.

And thank you Cody.  For sharing your story.  For making us think.  For rekindling our emotions.  And thank you and the others for making us care about each of you.