I've been following this story since it first broke, a hair over a month ago: Carol Daniel, "Nursing Home Sued after Resident Walks Away and Dies," KMOX-AM, 2/21/12. Capsule summary: back in January, on one of the only actually seriously dangerously cold days we've had this winter, an elderly dementia patient escaped from a Belleville, Illinois nursing home; police found his body, where he had laid down to die in a creek bed out of sight, two days later. The guy's family are distraught that the nursing home failed to stop him from escaping, and now say that they should have known better, because the guy had a history of escape attempts.
Oh. My. Fucking. Gods. I should damn well think he was trying to escape. I will, too.
Maybe I'm projecting my own issues onto this story, but let me tell you: I have no more intention of dying of progressive dementia in an in-patient convalescent facility than I have of dying hooked up to a van-load of late-medieval torture devices in some "intensive care" facility. Both of these ways of dying consist, in my opinion, of taking advantage of the dying person's weakness to inflict tortures on them, uncaring of how much you're making their life suck, just so you can selfishly hang onto them.
Can you begin to fucking imagine how awful even the best damned convalescent facility for dementia patients is? Even if these places had far higher budgets for entertainment and decor than they do (and they don't), even if the staff to patient ratio was adequate (and it's not), even if patients had more than comfortable amounts of living space to themselves (and they don't), what is the daily, hourly life of a convalescent dementia patient? Alternating periods of painful confusion that must feel every bit as unpleasant as being dosed with some horrible hallucinogen, and moments of lucidity in which, gods help you, you discover that you are imprisoned with several, or several dozen, or gods forbid a hundred or more, people, most of whom are in the grip of the same awful mind-robbing hallucinatory experience.
Worse luck for a guy like me? Just statistically, almost all of them will be mundanes. People that I have nothing in common with. Worse luck? Old mundanes. Have you spent time around old mundanes, lately? They can only talk about three things: sports (in mind-numbing detail), which parts of their bodies have malfunctioned most recently (in grotesque detail), and how awful liberals are. Complain, complain, complain. And I don't entirely blame them; chronic pain fucks you up, and I get that.
But if, because you can't stand the thought of a world without me in it, because you have utterly failed to emotionally prepare yourself (as I have) for the fact that some day I will die, you want to stick me in a building full of patients who were over-worked, who are exhausted, ill-informed people? And the caretakers who are, though overwork and exhaustion, being turned into the same people they are stuck caring for? Fellow patients who have spent the last decade or more of their lives living with chronic pain and who have thus lost almost any ability they ever had to think about anything but chronic pain, and the disappointment of their failing bodies? And leave me nobody to listen to except for them projecting that pain and disappointment outwards onto people I actually admire? When even I no longer have the mental clarity to read and to discuss current events, when my mind is fading in and out, when awful gaps in mental clarity where I don't know when it is or where I am or why I hurt so much or who are all these awful awful people are the only relief I get from the awful awful people themselves?
Then I hope to the gods that on some super, super cold night, during one of my remaining moments of clarity, I find an un-alarmed fire door with nobody between me and it, and I hope that clarity lasts long enough, as it did for this guy, for me to find some place where I won't be captured and returned in time, some place with a view of the trees and the stars. I hate the cold, but what I hear from people who've nearly died of it is that only the first hour or so is unpleasant, and even it doesn't sound any more unpleasant than being in a convalescent home. As awful a death as freezing to death would be, it's a death after a couple of hours of torture, not a couple of years.
I absolutely will be one of those patients who keeps making escape attempts. And I'll be relentless about it. So if somebody does get away with sticking me in one of these places, and I do end up escaping? Don't you fucking dare blame them for not stopping me. Because they probably can't. Because I can, and will, keep trying and I only need to succeed once.
(Of course, I've long assumed that it would never come to that. We Hickses are a mayfly breed; none of us has ever lasted that long. But I'm starting to feel cursed with unwanted longevity, so I'm starting to have to worry about this.)