Challenging Choices

I am prompted to post about ‘choices’ today because of a friend who is faced with a ‘do’ or ‘die’ situation, metaphorically speaking of course.  But it does feel like a choice between a kind of ‘death in life’ existence, or experiencing the turbulent but fullness of life with its attendant highs and lows, joy and sadness.

I have to remind him that even birth itself is a struggle. The alternative is to remain in that womb~like place, to be stillborn, to never experience the fullness of being and living.  However one looks at it, to live is to take personal responsibility for one’s health and wellbeing – emotional, psychological and physical – and also for the consequences of one’s action.

Some of us may be faced with an intolerable situation such as the daily management of suffering and distress, whether that pain is emotional and psychological, or coping with the indignities and infirmities that comes with a physical illness and/or old age. In the face of suffering the unspeakable indignities that appear with ill health in old age many people are choosing to dictate the time of their own death as a 2lst Century health care option.

Earlier this year a friend who unexpectedly found herself in the role of carer for a very unwell spouse said she had already signed her papers for Dignitas, the clinic is Switzerland which provides the terminally ill with what is supposedly a dignified departure from this planet. I am still not sure whether or not she was joking.

It’s all very well to make that choice for oneself, but what would I do if faced with this option as a loved one’s wishes, which required my help and support? If that person was an adult relative close to me whose suffering seemed more than they could bear, and whose life depended on a machine, the answer would have to be yes.

But there is another circumstance where I think that categorical response would not be appropriate. Last year on the edge of my peripheral vision stood the mother who had absconded with her seven~year~old son in an effort to thwart the courts from taking a decision of his behalf about radiotherapy treatment. The mother held very strong views about the impact allopathic drugs would have on her son’s life experience and articulated them powerfully. Would I have the right to make a choice like that on behalf of my child? I think the answer would probably be no.

That young mother stood on the periphery of my vision because I too am hardwired with a congenital aversion to poisoning my system with allopathic drugs, but in 2008 I arrived at a terminus. I too faced the choice of either ‘doing’ or ‘dying’. It must have driven my doctor to the edge of despair and certainly frustration if not downright irritation with what she must have regarded as a kind of kamikaze attitude to my own health care.

There is a rare form of hypertension described as morbid or malignant – a crisis condition which causes a great deal of damage to various organs in the body. If this is not treated then death can be instantaneous through a massive stroke or major heart attack. I went to that place six years ago.

In 2008 I had to undergo a special 24~hour diagnostic test which revealed that my blood pressure was catastrophically high and explosive. The systolic pressure (the upper number) representing what I call the ‘excitation’ or level of ‘fizz’ in the blood, and the diastolic pressure (the lower number) represented the force with which the blood was pumping through my arteries when my heart beats or contracts, was 231/149. The lowest reading was 146/83 and considered relatively normal nowadays. No two of 38 readings over 24 hours were the same. I was on the edge of a major catastrophe.

The test results were calamitous and to my mind absurd because my blood pressure had gone from 124/82, apparently normal, to malignant within ten days. How could that be?  There was something more going on here, and if I masked it with allopathic drug I would never find out what else was going on in my body.

Needless to say my GP said I must go on medication immediately, that very day. Given the diagnostic test results, she said I would probably need to take three additional tablets, including a beta blocker. Someone, not me, watched as my GP wrote the prescription for the first tablet. She could read the expression on my face, and was quite firm that my condition was very serious indeed and could not be controlled by lifestyle changes, in any event she considered that I had now ran out of time.

When I asked about the side effects of the first drug, she referred to a book on her shelf which listed in over two pages the sorts of things I could expect, some of which I was already experiencing without drugs, including weight fluctuation, urinary disturbance, rash, palpitations, ankle swelling, nausea, headaches, fatigue, dizziness and generally ‘feeling odd’. That was just the first couple of lines of the first paragraph on page one.

The prescribed medication belonged to a generation of generic drugs, described as a calcium antagonist. The word antagonist captured my attention. My T~cells were obviously not doing their job and needed reinforcement, but swallowing this concoction of antagonists, what Americans might call alien enemy combatants, would be tantamount to declaring war on my immune system. That was not going to happen. My T~cells needed friends and allies – agonists – not adversaries.

Everything has a cause, and I was intent on finding out what was causing the blood in my body to behave in such a psychotic manner. That turned out to be a six year journey of discovery, and to understand and accept that I was ‘differently abled’ and had ‘special needs’. It is also a story about the ecological crisis that confronts both the human body and the planet, a body of humans. That journey of discovery is a story important to all of us, because it requires that you turn and face yourself, and really see who you are.

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