On Dying Quietly…

Doomsday, for me, is only a couple of months away.

Do I want to die? I’ve been thinking about it a lot. The answer is an emphatic ‘no’. On the other hand, do I have a choice? Again, the answer is an emphatic ‘no’, at least not under the present circumstances. Like it or not I may have to kill myself. But I’m not alone. There are 5 million Canadians just like me, all over the age of 65, of which about 1,500 will commit suicide this year.

In the last 45 years the suicide rate has increased by 60% worldwide. In B.C. in 2010 there were 530 elderly British Columbians who killed themselves. This number is increasing at the rate of 13% per year. By the end of 2015, B.C. seniors will be killing themselves at the rate of more than 1,000 a year.

B.C. seniors are 14 times more likely to die from suicide than homicide. Putting it another way, during the time it takes 50 Canadians to die from AIDS, 3,000 will have committed suicide (Public Health Agency of Canada). Yet nobody hears about this tragedy. It’s something we prefer to ignore, even though some medical authorities are now describing the situation as pandemic.

But, one always has a choice, doesn’t he? I hope so, but you decide…

In 2003 I got a lump on my left ankle. During the next four years, while having three operations, I was in constant pain, night and day. It was like a bolt of lightening every 10 seconds. Then, in August of 2007, at age 69, my doctor told me I had Leiomyosarcoma, a rare form of virulent cancer. They cut my leg off just before Christmas.

But, because I was over age 65, I was not entitled to any kind of help for medical disability. I was on my own. Fortunately, I was self employed, owned my condo, and had about $70,000 in savings. It turned out, however, that my old muscles were not as resilient as younger ones. Try as I might, I didn’t have the strength to get around with the help of a prosthetic, so I ended up full time in a wheelchair. But, being of independent mind, I continued to live at home, alone, as I have done for the past twenty years.

In the years that followed, I became arthritic, diabetic and developed Crohn’s Disease as well— a bowel disorder with persistent diarrhea up to ten times a day (and night). Believe me, when you’ve got 20 seconds to make it to a specially equipped can, a wheelchair somewhat complicates things. Additionally, as I get older I get weaker, making transitioning in and out of the wheelchair somewhat perilous.

Anyway, life carries on, but not my business. Once the ‘cancer’ word got out my clients disappeared into the woodwork. In the meantime, my medical expenses continue at about $800 a month. Fourteen months ago my savings ran out. Suddenly desperate, I put my home up for sale at $20,000 below market value. But there have been no takers and I have had to use my credit cards to make up the monthly shortfall. As of two months ago, however, they’re maxed out. In short, I’m out of money and out of ideas too.

Ideally, I’d like to get into some form of subsidized, wheelchair accessible housing. But there’s nothing available. I’ve been on B.C. Housing’s lists for over five years and, as of a month ago, I’m told the wait is still an indefinite number of years into the future. But I simply can’t hold out that long. Complicating my application for assistance is the fact that, rather than be a pest to the home nurses, I try to look after myself as much as possible. Additionally, apparently having my own home is another strike against me. It seems that I don’t fit in anywhere.

So, when B.C. Hydro pulls the plug on me and my phone gets shut off, what should I do? Everyone assumes that I could call 911 and throw myself on the mercy of the system. Except there isn’t any. During my last stay at the local hospital I discovered that none of the bathrooms are wheelchair accessible. Even if they had elevated toilets and grab bars for the disabled (which they don’t). I cannot even brush my teeth. So, that’s out. What’s next?

I have no family here, nor— it turns out —friends either. What’s more, I’d make a lousy street person, what with being trapped in a wheelchair and crapping my pants every two hours.

From where I sit my options seem pretty bleak. Added to that I’m still in constant pain. My Tylenol Strong and Morphine is never far away. Still, I can carry on for a few months more. But what then? Have you got any ideas?

As I look at what’s coming, at least I have enough time to decide on the best way to do myself in. Like I said, it’s nice to have a choice.