TAKE ME AWAY

We should all have the right to die with dignity, on our own terms. Visit www.dwdnsw.org.au if you’d like to know more, or show your support. 

Imagine the sound of a bullfrog whispering.

That’s what Lander’s voice reminded the staff of, whenever he’d manage to make them hear him say, “Take me away, please…”

He didn’t manage that often. Not any more.

It wasn’t anything wrong with his throat that was the problem, although people hearing him lately for the first time tended to assume he was another victim of too many cigarettes.

Truth: the deep gravel voice was natural – he’d never been much of a smoker, other than a brief flirtation with a pipe in the mid-Sixties when he’d first been recognized as A Writer.

Scott William Lander. Creator of the Morton the Lunatic series of novels. The eponymous Morton was a teleporting hero who operated from a base on the moon, hence the ‘Lunatic’ tag. Scott couldn’t resist a pun.

He was never quite a darling of the critics, especially in his early career. He was dismissed as a bit too populist, perhaps, at a time when science fiction was meant to be intellectual, deep and meaningful. Lander’s work had seemed almost a throwback to the pulp fiction heroes of the Thirties, like Tarzan and Doc Savage.

But Scott and his hero were made of sterner stuff than the critics realised. When Armstrong and Aldrin kicked up the moon dust in ’69, some thought that would end Morton’s adventures. After all, anyone with a television now knew what the moon looked like. Nobody could really live there. NASA or the Russians would know if there was any sort of base there, wouldn’t they?

Lander saw it as an opportunity, though. In his next book, What The Eye Doesn’t See, he referred to how Morton used his own advanced technology to keep his base from the prying eyes of the space programs. It raised gentle questions about how trustworthy those agencies might really be, long before any conspiracy theorists proposed that the whole Apollo XI landing was an expensive hoax.

Scott had smiled in quiet delight when he read a magazine article headlined “DID ‘LUNAR’ LANDER GET IT RIGHT?”

That had all been a long time ago. Although his book appearances had become fewer and further between Morton had learned to overcome time as well as space. Alas, the same could not be said of his creator.

Scott Lander had fallen prey to Alzheimer’s Disease. It was insidious – slow and progressive. That had been the most distressing aspect of all for both Scott and his son William – both of them knew what was happening to the older man, and neither could do anything to prevent it.

After his diagnosis Scott had broken the news to Will, also an aspiring author, in a discussion about writing.

“Writers never retire,” Scott had observed. “We go in and out of fashion, and in and out of passion with our muse, but writing isn’t a job you can retire from. It’s a compulsion.”

“A need,” said Will, nodding.

“Like a driving force,” agreed his father, who then sighed deeply. “But I’ve realized I can’t steer.  Then I forgot and kept trying. And kept on realizing, and forgetting, and realizing again. I spoke to the doctor about it, he did some tests, and now he’s told me why. It’s only going to get worse.”

Continue reading TAKE ME AWAY

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A Long Dying

I don’t normally post other people’s writing on this site.  But this is different.  Special. It’s written by my mother-in-law Maggie, about her mother.  And what it says has particular resonance for me.  There are people I’ve cared about who’ve died too long, and without the dignity they wanted.  Like Maggie, I don’t want to be among that number.  And especially not because someone else – politician or any other ‘authority’ – denies me my choice.

My mother was 84 when she had a stroke, 88 when she died.

A woman who loved to talk, she became aphasic. Her greatest fear – that she wouldn’t be able to communicate verbally – became reality. She could speak, but what she said made no sense. And she knew it, knew that the words coming out of her mouth were gibberish. She used to beat the arms of her chair in frustration.

I watched when she refused food and drink in a rehabilitation hospital, trying to kill herself, trying to control the end of her life. That wasn’t allowed, and so a naso-gastric tube was forced into her trachea; a second attempt, under xray, managed to get the tube down her oesophagus.

Then I was told I should allow her to have ECT, somewhere between eight and twelve sessions,  “Because her kind of depression responds well to ECT.” When I refused, I was told ‘the case’ would be put before the Guardianship Board which might grant the permission I was denying.

My mother decided to eat and drink again and I never knew just what it was that made her change her mind.

I watched her in the nursing home as she shrank, physically as well as mentally. After four years she was bedridden, curled up like a foetus, her hands like claws. Following multiple admissions to a hospital for treatment for pneumonia I was told I could write to her doctor asking for ‘no more active treatment’. I wrote that letter, feeling both relief and horror. And resentment.

My mother had a long dying.

I don’t want to face a death like my mother’s. I want to be able to choose the time and place of my dying. Surely that’s not too much to ask?