Saturday April 27, 2013

The final transition

Editor of the Reformer:

Our lives consist of a series of transitions: birth, childhood to adolescence, to adulthood, to parenthood, to old age, to death. If lucky, we pass through all of them. No one avoids the first or the last. Each of these progressions is attended by profound physical, emotional and spiritual shifts, yet we as a culture ignore their importance by not preparing for them in any practical or useful way. Some religions provide outdated and sometimes meaningless rituals to mark various stages of life, but there is no social structure or cultural imperative to prepare us for the challenges of adolescence, let alone those attendant upon dying.

Recently Jane Brody, New York Times columnist and author, spoke in Westminster at the invitation of Westminster Cares. Her topic was the title of her 2009 book: "Jane Brody's Guide to the Great Beyond: A Practical Primer to Help You and Your Loved Ones Prepare Medically, Legally, and Emotionally for the End of Life." The attendance at what was a fascinating and informative talk by an expert with excellent communication skills was good, but not at all what I expected given the universal importance of the topic, the popularity of the speaker, and the extensive promotion of the event. I am told that some, when being told of the talk, shrank back and said they couldn't possibly go to a lecture on that. As if death could be caught from listening to someone speak of it.


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This fear of preparing ourselves for the end of our lives is all too common. It is the reason why family members are left confused and indecisive about what to do for incapacitated loved ones, because they never talked about what the loved ones wanted done in the last days or weeks of their lives. Did they want everything possible to prolong their lives? Did they want to have a respirator or feeding tube to keep them alive? Or did they wish to die a peaceful, pain-free death at home? The answers may seem obvious in the abstract, but it is not so easy when we are faced with the actual questions, and we must answer them without the counsel of our dying loved one. When we are the dying loved one, the inability to express our wishes on how and where we will die, can be terrifying. The existence of a simple conversation regarding preferences ahead of time, a written advance directive, a designated health care proxy, can alleviate the stress of not knowing, or not being able to communicate the wishes of the person undergoing the final transition.

Jane's advice was practical and useful and not at all frightening. If only more people had been there to benefit from it, some of the fear that infuses our final transition might have been quelled. For those who were unable or unwilling to attend the lecture, I strongly recommend reading Jane's book. Let this final passage be the one you prepare for.

Judith Petry, MD,

Westminster, April 26

Why weren't they being watched?

Editor of the Reformer:

In regards to the pharmaceutical theft at Hotel Pharmacy: We don't pretend to be fully informed about the legal protocol mandated for Vermont pharmacies in protecting their medication stock from internal theft (Reformer, April 23). However, as we understand it, "controlled substances" such as Vicodin, necessitate strict inventory supervision on the part of the licensed pharmacy staff.

That somewhere between "10,000 and 80,000" Vicodin were removed from the stock of a Brattleboro pharmacy by an employee for a two-year period raises questions. Certainly this behavior is reprehensible, yet the question remains: How could one employee who is not legally responsible for the controlled substances accomplish that feat, over such an extended period of time, without the awareness of any of the professional Pharmacy staff?

Bob Crego and Jean Pollock,

Newfane, April 24

Kudos to recent NEYT performance

Editor of the Reformer:

As an old woman fast approaching the terrifying possibility of facing dementia myself (my mother and her sisters all went out that way) I would like to pay tribute to our world-class puppeteers Eric and Inez Bass, (Sandglass Theater), and their team who worked on the unique presentation D-Generation, recently performed at NEYT. It is indeed an inspired project and a remarkable group effort, carried out with deep sensitivity, skill and grace. Congratulations to them for the accolades and grants that will be taking "D-Gen" to be shared across the country.

An article in the Reformer on Mach 21 by Jon Potter before the revised version at NEYT spoke of the remarkable collaboration of many hands. It somehow omitted mention, though, of a key player. I'm thinking of the profound artistry of Coni Richards who sculpted, and thereby gave material existence to, the five individuals we come to know and love. Thanks to the development of each character through the story and to their embodiment in these remarkable puppets, these nursing home residents come alive for us on the stage so that the audience wants to rush up to them after the performance and speak with them, somewhat surprised that they don't answer back ...

Safe traveling to you all, and thanks!

Margot Torrey,

Putney, April 15