FYI Daily

Tale of a Death-Defying Dad

Last updated: Jan 12, 2012

those constipation blues

Here's a story that's growing increasingly common -- with no end in sight. As modern medicine keeps the old and sick alive longer and longer, they need more care just as resources dwindle and their scattered, recession-wracked families struggle to ride the fiscal, practical, and emotional rollercoaster of providing end-of-life care that has become, well, seemingly endless.

Augustus Currie Monroe counted on dropping dead before he'd ever need a nursing home or long-term care. But it turned out that "Daddy" was a near-"immortal," writes his son Doug Monroe in a moving account for Atlanta Magazine, cheating death for 11 years after a health crisis seemed to be ushering in his last days.

The elder Monroe went on to be ejected from hospice programs not once but twice. By 92, he'd lost most of his vision, most of his teeth, and 100 pounds of strength and muscle. In 11 years, he'd weathered prostate cancer, a deteriorating spine, a stroke, choking to near-death on his own mucus, a twice-broken shoulder, and dementia. He wound up incontinent, spoon-fed, and able to do little more than drift in and out of deep sleep, during which he gasped for air.

"I cannot imagine that this once-dignified Southern gentleman, who clawed his way out of the grit of a Depression-era tobacco farm in North Carolina and bought a snazzy double-breasted suit with one of his first paychecks, would be anything but humiliated by what is happening to him now"”if he had all his faculties," his son writes.

Monroe's retirement income and life savings of $300,000 went to assisted living for his wife, who died eight years ago, and on his own care. The younger Monroe, who at 64 is a leading-edge Baby Boomer, notes that he, like most of his peers, have nothing like the earlier generation's pensions or savings -- as they cope with not only their parents' needs and their own children's needs, but their own health scares.

He quotes a friend who described her mother's slow bout of "fast moving cancer": "She wouldn't die. She just wouldn't die!" the teacher told me. "People used to tell me, "˜Oh, you're so lucky!' But I wasn't lucky. It was a nightmare."

Or at the very least, a very mixed blessing. And one to which more and more people can relate, now that those over 85 are the fastest-growing age cohort.