It’s been over two hours since I emailed one of my sons with the subject line: Seriously, I’m getting a tattoo. I’ve heard nothing from him.
Of course, my mother will speak from her urn, in an attempt to dissuade. She stalks, you know. But if she says “unladylike” or “tacky,” I’ll be at the tattoo parlor before her cremains calm from the swirl of disapproval.
I never considered a tattoo until I read an article that included a link to an essay, “How Doctors Die.” Both the article and the essay address end-of-life issues. I learned that some physicians wear DNR or NO CODE medallions. The essay’s author, Dr. Ken Murray, even has a colleague with a NO CODE tattoo.
What a great idea.
Question is: Where on my body? Chest would be obvious, obviously.
My other son called. I told him, saying “DNR, Do Not Resuscitate.” He laughed and asked where. When I said chest, he told me it would really hurt. I won’t elaborate on his elaboration. Suffice it to say that when he recounted his personal experience, I mocked, “You sound like a little girl.”
I’m thinking forehead. Less sensitive and certainly a conspicuous site. Location’s necessary for a decision this important.
We took care of our mother during her starvation after she was told she needed frequent blood transfusions and wasn’t a candidate for surgery. She said she was in no pain, but we were, making numerous calls to Hospice as we wondered and waited. Her living/dying was extended because paramedics gave her two IV bags of fluids. Had she been conscious in route to the emergency room, she’d have refused these.
If someone calls 911 for a person who is not breathing, paramedics perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). I know this. I called 9ll when I entered the bedroom and found my husband unresponsive. Even though he’d told me he never wanted to be admitted to the hospital again (and he was a physician). The paramedics asked me to leave the room. I said, “He would not want this. Would not want resuscitation.” He’d told me many times that if I ever found him unconscious I should do nothing.
We’d watched a movie together a few months before his death. The Sea Inside is based on the true story of Ramon Sampredo, paralyzed after a swimming accident. Sampredo spent 30 years trying to convince his family and the Spanish legal system of his right to die. “I want to die because for me, living like this… is not worthy,” he said.
And: “The person who really loves me will be the one who helps me die.”
After we watched the movie, my husband said repeatedly to me, “The person who really loves me will be the one who helps me die.” I did. I gave him permission. By assuring him that I would survive, that I would be okay.
I was emphatic with the emergency responders in voicing opposition to CPR. And I don’t know if they tried. Because, at their insistence, I did leave the room, and I also left the planet, wandering in an out of reality for more than two years. I periodically dissociated, watching this person (me) from some point in a room as if I were observing someone else’s life. It could not be mine.
Death is a birth, I once was told. No, death is a death, and it is cruel. Unless it is swift and painless. But for those who witness the suffering, the diminishing, and, then, live the loss, it is brutal.
Each of us needs to consider our options long before a diagnosis descends. Advance directives are significant.
Whatever is decided, we must be clear with family and friends. There can be no ambiguity.
And in the meantime, don’t let life become a habit. Examine why you’re here. Question the purpose of your existence. Live and love, fully. And participate passionately as a citizen of the world. Until the DNR tattoo or medallion is honored.
Missy Beattie is a member of Compassion and Choices. She can be reached at email@example.com.