I’ve mused here before about how I might like to die.

Surely, since we don’t seem to have the choice over whether we die, we should be able to exercise the choice of how we might die … it’s only fair, right?

A truly loving God would acquiesce and give us that much. Merely munching an apple offered by a snivelling snake shouldn’t take away all rights and freedoms, should it?

APPLE _,SNAKE AND BEAUTY

And so in the spirit of my despair over lack of choice, the following is a true-to-life little black-humour tale of :

HOW I’D PREFER not TO DIE.

About 10 years ago, in the small’ish lab in which I work on the 3rd floor of a medical building in downtown Penticton, it was approaching 5 p.m. and near closing time for the day. I was putting the last samples of patient urine and stool onto agar-culture plates to incubate and grow bacteria overnight. Yes, somebody really does have to do this!

In the front patient-section of the lab, an elderly gentleman – we’ll call him Mr. Jones – was stretched out long on a thin mattress-covered table in a small private alcove. Liz, one of the lab assistants, was placing little sticky electrodes across his bared chest so she could perform an ECG (electrocardiogram).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Even dogs can have an ECG done…

Penticton sports a mild climate – by Canadian standards – and mixed with sun and beaches this means that the city is full of retirees. End result? The lab performs a lot of ECG’s to check on the ticker health of local seniors.

In a turn that no one anticipated, suddenly, unexpectedly, Mr. Jones gasped weakly and went limp and unresponsive … cardiac arrest. His skin tones dissolved into an ashen grey and his mouth sagged open … breathing came to a halt along with his heart.

All the stops were pulled out to resuscitate him.

Within minutes, the lab was jammed with firefighters, ambulance paramedics, police, doctors, and 5 or 6 of us lab folks.

The poor fellow was hoisted unceremoniously off the ECG bed like a limp Muppet and laid out in the middle of the lab floor. People in white coats and various other uniforms pumped and suctioned and intubated and shocked his poor spiritless body, doggedly determined to save this life and and AND…BUT…

… MR. JONES DIED.

ekg-flatline

The frenetic movements and loud voices of the medics gradually stilled and bit-by-bit a calm settled over the room.

It was over … Mr. Jones was over. Nothing more to be done. Just take the body away and everyone could go home.

And so the firefighters departed … and then the doctors … and since it was now well past closing time, all the lab staff melted away as I had volunteered to hang around and lock up once Mr. Jones was packaged up and taken away.

And THEN, the police and paramedics started to leave…HUH…

But, what about Mr. Jones?“, I inquired.

He was still placidly laid out on the floor with tubes sticking out everywhere… plasticy grey-skinned but otherwise quite peaceful looking. He seemed content.

Well“, said the paramedics, “we only transport living patients to the hospital, and since he’s deceased, our job is done here“.  Off they went….

Police??

Well… the doctor was here and declared it a normal death, no criminal concerns, so we’re out of here too. Try calling the coroner to see what she wants done with him“.

…BUT BUT BUT…

Suddenly, the lab door closes. All is deathly quiet and Mr. Jones and I looked at each other (metaphorically, of course) with puzzlement. He might have even grinned ironically at me, but I think my mind was perhaps playing little games on me at this point.

After a moment of absorbing the situation, I finally phoned the coroner. I explained the full story to her in great detail, and then she broke out laughing (it’s a morbid world I live in!). There was no foul play involved and so she too determined that it didn’t involve her.

laughing-woman

Me-“oh yeah, so what do I do now, just cart Mr. Jones home to meet the family?

She suggested I call the man’s family at home to see if there was a funeral home that they would like me to call and have Mr. Jones picked up. Kind of like calling 1-800-GOT-JUNK for a pickup.

GREAT…I get to break the news to Mrs. Jones that she can put that dinner plate back in the cupboard because Mr. Jones ain’t coming home for his supper. They didn’t teach us this stuff in lab school.

My heart was beating fast and hard when I dialled the Jones’ home number…a man’s voice answered…

Hello, is this the Jones’ residence?

Yes, this is Dr. Jim Striker, Mr. and Mrs. Jones’ family doctor.

Umm, I was just calling to tell Mrs. Jones about an unfortunate event concerning her husband-

Yes, I know…my brother Mark was the Doc that attempted to revive Mr. Jones at the scene…he called me to let me know that Mr. Jones had passed, so I came to the family home to break the news.

WHEW, my heart started pumping again! Didn’t have to tell the wife the bad news after all.

Dr. Striker conferred with the bereaved widow for a few moments and then gave me the name of a local funeral home that could pick up Mr. Jones.

This little tale ends a short while later with my poor old new friend Mr. Jones rolling out the door of the lab in a zippered shiny black bag.

Funeral home body

And so the curtain falls and the movie ends?

Yes and No.

When Mr. Jones woke up early that morning, he didn’t turn over, tenderly kiss his wife’s cheek and think to himself,

“This is the day I will die. I’m going to wait until I’m surrounded by strangers and then croak”.

He may have had an inkling that because he wasn’t feeling very well that time was running short, but nothing as dramatic as pegging out in a 3rd floor medical laboratory. This would never have been in his plans as he pulled the door closed to his house a final time.

It doesn’t really matter if I die like Mr. Jones. There are far worse ways to reach the end, but Mr. Jones’ death is just the start of a message I took away from this event. It reminds me that, short of suicide, we don’t have the choice of where and when we’ll expire. The day arrives and it … just happens.

I’m not afraid of death; I just don’t want to be there when it happens.”

Woody Allen

What matters more than how or where we die, is how we live. We have the capacity, no matter our lot, to find fulfillment in our days. It comes down to choice.

It’s complicated and it’s messy… but it’s simple, really.

Hope Flower

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