Getting old is scary and then it gets worse

Especially if you are a woman and are not behaving like a nice old lady. Then the game is rigged and you’ll lose.

You probably have not read my October recap and I barely talked about this anyway. The reason is that I knew I needed to write about this in more length. Because it is heartbreaking, and it got me thinking a lot.

What happened?

In short my partner’s aunt has been admitted to the hospital with a throat infection, was then transferred to / imprisoned in their a psychiatric ward and the doctors are now considering ‘treating’ her with electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). Just so you understand, ECT is an electric current sent through your brain, causing a brief surge of electrical activity within the brain or something also known as a seizure!

Yes, this is the 2022 and this is still considered a treatment. It is now done under anaesthesia to make it look like we have evolved since the 1950’s.

Side effects include memory loss, drowsiness, confusion, headache, aching muscles, loss of appetite but also apathy, loss of creativity, drive and energy, loss of emotional responses, difficulty learning or even concentrating.

Basically, it looks like you have been lobotomised. And this isn’t even the tip of the iceberg as some people experience even worst medical side effect. Indeed, it could also include permanent brain damages and death but, you know, death is always a risk!

Should I mention that such treatment is predominately give to women?! Yep! Things haven’t changed that much.

Even when we are becoming old and frail, us women are still a threat or something. If you don’t behave like a nice little old lady, you get lobotomised.

To be clear the concept is that the seizures can reset brain function, just like you are turning a computer on and off. But if you research ECT, you will often read:

“Although there are a lot of theories, no one is really quite sure why it works.”

Yes, read this again! No one knows why it works! And in many cases, it simply doesn’t.

In the case of my aunt in law, she is so agitated (because she hates hospitals, because she hates NHS, because she doesn’t want to be there), that the hospital won’t mind if she is confused. As long as she becomes quiet, they will be happy.

If she forgets her husband, her friends, her family, her amazing life, it doesn’t matter to them. As long as she is quiet!

So yeah, life has been hard for her and for us, as we have trying everything we can, to get her out of this hellhole and are getting desperate.

Obviously it got me thinking. What would happen to us if we ended up in this situation? Yes, selfish but also necessary thinking it seems.

How do you protect yourself from unwanted & unacceptable medical treatments?

How are we going to protect ourselves from something like this happening? If the world doesn’t go down in flames before, that is.

One can formalise advance directives in case of serious illness, dementia, coma… One can have a ‘do not resuscitate’ order in place even if that has little implication and is certainly not applicable in case of mental health issues. Or one can appoint someone to take decision in their place if they become unable to do so themselves ie. an attorney (a family member for example not a lawyer).

Most solutions are tricky, costly, require a lawyer to handle, need to be written a certain way, published… It isn’t that easy to put in place. I’m sure it’s different in every countries but I’m also guessing that most countries have similar concepts.

My aunt in law, had, for a very long time, a lasting power of attorney in place for health and wealth but had it revoked recently. It was in the process of being replaced but the new one had not been implemented. What was mostly just a matter of timing has become highly problematic.

The replacement were due to circumstances. One of her attorney was her best friend who herself was going through major health issues and would not have been able to handle more. It was right to replace her, to not burden her any further.

Because, you see, it is really hard to ask someone to become their attorney. To make decision on your behalf. How do you chose this person? How do you trust this person?! How can you be sure, if and when the time comes you need this person, they will take the right decision? How can anyone take the right decision?

I hear all the parents saying “my children will protect me”.

I think this is absurd. You probably never experience anything like that, to even consider it is ok to put such a burden on your children. You probably have no clue how difficult it is to even think of the treatment options, how doctors only give partial information, how hard it is to get a doctor to explain things if you get to speak to them at all, how little you are involved. In my experience, it’s often the case, that doctors put you, in front of a done thing. “We had to act because so and so, this and this was done last night”.

You leave the hospital at the end of the visiting hours and the next day you find out that something happened during the night.

Even when doctors tell you about a treatment, they don’t really need your approval it seems. This is what is going on with my aunt. They just need 2 doctors to agree and they can legally fry her brain.

Some will say, I had to make such decisions for my child, I know. OK! Then why do you want to do that to them!?!

Others will consider appointing their brother or sister, maybe a close cousin, maybe their best friend. I’m considering it too. My brothers being much older than me they aren’t a real option. They’ll probably go cuckoo before me! I don’t know.

In fact, to me, at this point, the advance directives seems like a good choice.

You take the decisions and do not burden any of your friends, with having to make impossible choices, they might live to regret all their lives.

Personally, I would have never thought that such directives should include a ‘do not lobotomise me’ box but one learns something new every day.

So here we are, lots of thinking, various options which are proving to be far from ideal.

You still can’t win

You can win because it’s all rigged. No matter what your plans, are, it seems that the doctors can override them! Yep, they can. They can override the decisions of your attorney or the ones in your advance directives. It makes you wonder what is the point. But it’s for your health and wellbeing of course!

Yes, doctors can lobotomise you, drug you or whatever, no matter what your wishes are. This is power. This is unacceptable and yet people suffer from this every day. Well-meaning process and policies applied by exhausted doctors who do not have time to get to know you and yet, hold your life and your future into their hands. It is shameful.

Please note I’m not really blaming the doctors. I think it is the whole medical institution that is to blame. The doctors and nurses are overworked, stretched and yet have to comply.

Sure, it is hard to forgive them for bringing the wrong old lady to our first appointment. It’s hard to forgive them for even consider letting an old lady sit outside in her hospital gown in November, without a coat. It’s hard to understand why they are so secretive about their facilities and what is going on there. Still, some of the doctors and nurses displayed some true talent in defusing situations. Some showed kindness and it felt that maybe, they were prisoners too.

Yes, getting old is scary, very very scary. One slip, one wrong word to the wrong person, especially if you are not behaving like a nice old lady and your life might be over. Consider yourself warn!

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