Dear Older Self,
Your body has been amazing. It has kept you going. It has put up with not always being treated kindly. You know, like times when you did not get enough sleep, times when you consumed too much sugar and other not-so-healthy things, times when you pushed and pushed yourself at work. All of this and still your body has carried on. It has been creaky and complain-y at times but it is still quite a magnificent gift.
I know your body has required more of your time and attention as you continue to age. Perhaps there are now more doctor’s appointments and more medications and more conditions, disorders and diseases than earlier in life. It may all get to be too much at some point. Too much to manage. Too much to keep paying attention to. If you begin to feel this way, please don’t just give up on your medical care. Please ask for help managing it and paying attention to it.
Remember the elderly man who intentionally stopped taking his blood pressure medications and ended up having a stroke? When you went to his home to pick up his wife to take her to visit him in the hospital, you noticed a record in his hand writing of many days of blood pressure readings—all of them were dangerously high. Yet, he continued to choose to not take his medications. Talking to him later, you discovered that he had literally come to the conclusion that he knew more than his doctor about what he needed and what he did not need.
I encourage you not to think that you can be your own doctor. If for some reason you want to make a change in your medication or treatment regime first make an appointment with your doctor. Take someone with you to the appointment or record the conversation with the doctor so you can be sure you heard what the doctor had to say. And then, weigh your options, with the input from your doctor and others who know you, in order to make a wise and informed decision.
Sometimes it is a good idea to get a second opinion if you are questioning advice you have been given. But, again, have someone who knows you listen to the second opinion with you. And then weigh your options with their help.
Please do not fail to get the medical attention you need. Do not make the same mistake as your elderly friend who did not go for her annual eye appointments for a decade because she decided on her own that there was no need to do so. When she realized that her eyesight was suddenly failing and you took her to the ophthalmologist she discovered she had glaucoma, a problem that could have been treated had she continued getting yearly check ups. But by the time she realized there was a problem, it had caused irreparable damage. This caused a lot of unnecessary suffering. One of her favorite activities for years had been reading. In fact, she made it a point to start a new book on Christmas Day each year to fill in whatever hours she was not with family on that day. But now she had lost her ability to read.
Remember the elderly friends who refused to use a cane or a walker even after their doctors and others had highly recommended that they do so? One of them said that it would make them look too old. They preferred the risk of falling and causing grave injury. Please seek to make wise choices as you listen to the input of others who care about you.
Nothing of what I am saying to you, dear older self, means that you do not have the right to refuse treatment that is available to you. You do have the right to refuse treatment. Sometimes it may be a wise choice. But do not make these decisions alone.
If you have a diagnosis of kidney failure, for example, you might choose not to undergo kidney dialysis at all or for very long. If you have a diagnosis of cancer you may choose not to go through chemotherapy. Or if you need open heart surgery, you may not want to go through such major surgery.
If your family pushes you to agree to medical treatment you do not want, talk with them about it. Talk to them about your right to refuse treatment and why you want to make this choice. If this conversation is too painful for you and your family to have on your own, consult your doctor or a minister or a hospital chaplain. Families often have a very hard time letting go of their elderly. They may not be able to imagine life without you. Or they may not want to face the pain of the grief. All of this needs to be talked about with support. These can be deeply important and meaningful conversations for families.
Humility is the practice of living with our limits, including our limited knowledge and wisdom. You have limited knowledge of your medical condition and treatment needs. Acknowledge these limits. Seek the knowledge and wisdom of medical professionals, and the added input of those who know you.
Please let go of being your own doctor. Please seek and follow wise medical advice. Keep in mind that you have the right to refuse treatment you do not want but be sure you understand the likely consequences of your choice and please make your decisions in consultation with those you trust.
This meditation is taken from Notes to Our Older Selves: Suggestions for Aging With Grace by Juanita Ryan and Mary Rae. You can get a copy at Amazon.com