Early Sunday morning, April 7, 2013, a man fell while riding down an escalator to one of the downtown Seattle Metro bus tunnels. His shirt got tangled in the teeth at the base of the escalator, and unable to free himself from the jaws of death, he died of strangulation. I don’t know about you, but of all the possible scenarios surrounding my fear of dying, I can’t imagine experiencing that type of violent death.
What rivals the tragedy of this man’s death is the way the local media treated the incident. Local television news outlets of ABC, NBC, CBS; and primary newspapers Seattle Times and Seattle PI; all felt it was very important for us viewers and readers to know that surveillance video showed that the man staggered onto the escalator; and that an opened bottle of brandy was found in his back pocket. Oh, I see, it’s the man’s fault for being strangled to death by the escalator on which he was riding. Perhaps, then, a better title for my article should be Suicide by Escalator.
The deceased, Maurecio Bell, forty-two years old, was a father of four, a brother, and a son. Many family members are mourning this horrific death which was caught on surveillance video – of course – so that all of us newshounds would be able to witness him die right before our eyes. David Bell, the victim’s father, stated that anyone could have been strangled in that escalator regardless of the circumstances, e.g., someone could have had a stroke or a heart attack and have met the same type of end. Or, speaking for myself, maybe someone as clumsy as me could have lost his or her balance, fallen, and been strangled in a similar fashion.
Why did the media decide to focus on this man’s possible inebriation? Like it or not, doing so turns ones attention to that extremely irrelevant element of the tragedy rather than on the real tragedy of the circumstances.
And here’s something else for you to ponder. For those of you who do not live in my state of Washington, let me tell you something else that was seen on the surveillance video. A few people walked right past this man and did nothing to assist him. Eventually a passerby tried to free the man and when unable to do so, he pushed the emergency stop button and then attempted to revive the man with CPR. By then, of course, it was too late. Surveillance video showed that immediately upon getting caught up into the teeth of the steps, the victim struggled briefly and within moments, his body went limp. At least it was an almost instant death, but it was a fearsome and painful one, regardless of how quick.
Isn’t an accidental death, an accident? Isn’t that the point of this story? Why should any blame be apportioned to the victim when it has already been determined that it’s a strong possibility that the escalator in question might have some unattended service issues. But I’m not going to blame the escalator or the maintenance crew for that escalator, and I’m certainly not going to blame the decedent.
Maurecio Bell was a victim who did not deserve to die in this manner and should not have had his character besmirched in the process. First and foremost, Maurecio was a human being; one of Earth’s short-lived inhabitants.
Rest in peace Mr. Bell. I’m sorry your life ended at such a young age.
The above link, from a December 2012 NBC News report, addresses the conversations that many of us – well, many of you anyway – still need to have with your parents. (My mother died in 1994, my father in 2007 – those conversations have long since taken place.) In many respects, my brother and sister and I were fortunate because in our family, the topic of sickness and death seemed no different from discussing that night’s dinner menu – perhaps even easier. That’s just how it was in our household growing up. But I’m aware that universally, that is not the case.
In my article Cost of Dying: planning for a good death, from advance directive to talking with your family, I’ve attached an exceptional article about a few people’s experiences discussing how their loved ones want to die. By now I may have lost some of you, but bear with me. There’s a reason why I’ve chosen to address this topic.
GIFTS. Who doesn’t like receiving gifts? Most of us get a kick out of being handed a package with a fully wrapped surprise within and told to “open it!” “What, for me?” Yes – for you. Perhaps the gift is something we didn’t expect, or we’ve sufficiently hinted our exact wishes and finally someone gifted us with that long sought after item. Fun, isn’t it? Someone cared enough to gift you with something you’ve always wanted or you receive something that you didn’t know you wanted, but it turns out, you do!!!
THE GIFT THAT KEEPS ON GIVING. A few years ago, I succeeded in convincing my wonderful hubby that we needed to put together our “last wishes” which of course includes a Will, but more importantly, an Advanced Health Care Directive. My husband is one of those who isn’t exactly comfortable sitting around the dinner table – or any table for that matter – talking about death. I get that – I really do. So I couched this discussion by talking about what a gift my parents, and his parents, gave their families by specifically outlining what to do when it came time to do something.
When your loved one is heading towards the great beyond, it’s comforting to already have his or her wishes on paper and ready to execute – no pun intended. I’ll use my father as an example. My father died at the age of 89 on October 13, 2007. Official cause of death was prostate cancer but advanced Alzheimer’s was a huge factor in his death. There is no way my father would have a) survived cancer surgery; and b) even wanted cancer surgery at that stage of his dying. His Advanced Health Care Directive very clearly stated his wishes and us three siblings had copies of that document and respectfully went along with his wishes. Dad saved us the stress of making an extremely difficult guesstimate of what he would have wanted in the midst of that situation. His dying was already an emotional experience so I can’t imagine having some sort of discussion about when to stop treating his illnesses.
The legal document, drafted years earlier, was drafted for this specific time. Even if dad had been conscious – and he was not – his dementia would have prevented him from making a well-informed decision. If ever there was a time when dad’s gift was ready to be presented – this was it. That gift allowed us to spend our last hours with him simply loving him; singing to him; and telling him how grateful we were to have him as our dad. Beautiful.
You don’t have to wait until you are 50 years or older to put your wishes in print. Old people aren’t the only ones dying who require some sort of affirmative decision-making. Someone in their thirties could be in a horrific vehicle accident and end up lingering on the precipice of death. A forty-year old person could have a stroke and be on that same precipice. It’s never too early to do something about your exit from this world as we know it. You can always change your mind later – you decide that you do, or do not, want hydration, so you revise the document. That’s the beauty of word processing – it’s changeable, and once you get that revised version documented by witnesses, you’re good to go! Literally.
If you choose to use an attorney, you can go through the local Bar Association for referrals or you can attempt the same outcome by doing it yourself. Many office supply stores have boiler plate legal documents you can readily purchase – but be certain to purchase the forms that contain the required legal verbiage for your state or territory. Additionally, organizations such as Compassion and Choices provides forms that you can download from their website, even a form that has a Dementia Provision. Who woulda thunk? Not me.
The Holidays may be over, but the season of gift-giving is not. Won’t you consider giving your loved ones one more gift this year?
In Washington State, there are currently 150,000 people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease. In the rest of the Nation, more than 5 million have Alzheimer’s disease. That number will jump to 16 million by the year 2050. Most of us envision an elderly person with some sort of dementia. We might even expect it to occur in those 85 or older. Listen to me Baby Boomers – young and not-so-young – the number of people diagnosed before the age of 65 – known as early-onset Alzheimer’s – is more common than you think. In the United States alone, those with early-onset disease currently number 200,000.
That number decreased by one when my exceptional sister-in-law died on July 4, 2012 at the age of 69. Just about the time that Baby Boomers should be anxiously making their final retirement plans – such as was the case with my brother and his wife – they are instead dealing with the challenges of managing a disease for which there is no cure.
Sixty-four year old Lon Cole, a resident of Puyallup, Washington, is one of the 200,000. The local NBC affiliate, King5 in Seattle, Washington, ran a touching story about this gentleman. I hope you will take the time to look at this news article: Alive and Thankful: Living with early-onset Alzheimer’s. Those who have managed, or are currently managing, the care of a loved one with early-onset disease, will be touched by this family’s story.
My oh, my – such a difficult subject to broach with a family member when you know that he should put down the car keys and let others do the driving for him. The article linked above from NBC Nightly News is a good source of tips on how to handle this very familiar problem. I address this issue in my article: Driving with dementia: the dangers of denial. Although dementia is usually one of the most talked about reasons for taking away someone’s car keys, there are other reasons that are just as important that must not be ignored:
- Age-related slow reaction times;
- Medications that might cause dizziness and/or slow reaction time; and
- Impaired eyesight and hearing.
Not wanting to hurt a loved one’s feelings should not be the reason to avoid this subject matter. Let’s face it, your loved one’s safety and the safety of absolutely everyone else is at stake here. There are already so many dangers on the road with drivers talking or texting on their cellphones, driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, doing any number of distracting functions such as eating, personal grooming, changing a tune on your I-Pod, or being distracted by children or dogs in the back seat. Now add someone who is impaired by age or cognitive disease and the risks to others increases greatly.
If you or a loved one are facing this important and difficult step, please read the attached NBC article linked above and also take the time to look at my article, Driving with dementia: the dangers of denial that provides encouragement for how you might take care of this very important matter of safety.