RandyW Posted February 8, 2007 Share Posted February 8, 2007 This is a long post to read. You may laugh a little at it. I was sitting this morning reading this adn thought of someone we all know and love and pray very hard for right now. I will tell you who I THOUGHT of at the end of this, and why. Please read and Enjoy. Props are given to the author and Publishing Magazine. The Last Laugh Read an excerpt from columnist Art Buchwald's book. By Art Buchwald, from Too Soon to Say Goodbye From Reader's Digest February 2007 "Too Soon to Say Goodbye" Editors' Note: Celebrated newspaper columnist Art Buchwald, who was known for his sly wit, died on January 17, 2007, at age 81 from kidney failure. Last year, after Buchwald refused dialysis treatment, doctors predicted he would die within weeks. Something unexpected happened, though, after the Pulitzer Prize winner checked into a hospice to face his final days: He lived to return home and write Too Soon to Say Goodbye, a funny, frank account of his near-death experience. Below is an excerpt from that book, published in November 2006 by Random House, which appears in the February 2007 issue of Reader's Digest. By all rights, this book should never have been written. By all rights, I should be dead. And thereby hangs the tale. In early 2006, I was riding the elevator up to my room at an acute-care facility in Washington, D.C., when I saw a sign that said there was also a hospice. At that point, all I knew about hospices was that they cared for terminally ill patients. I arranged a tour, and everything looked very good. At that moment, I decided I wanted to live there. I had lost a leg at Georgetown University Hospital. I missed my leg, but when they told me I'd also have to take dialysis for the rest of my life, I decided -- too much. My decision coincided with my appearance on Diane Rehm's radio talk show, which has over a million listeners. I talked to her from the hospice about my decision not to take dialysis. It is one thing to choose to go into a hospice; it's another thing to get on the air and tell people about it. The listener response was very much in my favor. Later, I received over 150 letters, and most said I was doing the right thing. This, of course, made me feel good. I wrote back: "As Frank Sinatra would say, 'I did it my way.'" I was under the impression that my stay at the hospice would be for two or three weeks. I was wrong. Every day I sit in a beautiful living room where I can have anything I want. I can even send out to McDonald's for hamburgers and milk shakes. (Most people have to watch their diets.) A constant flow of people keep visiting me, many with famous names that impress my family. I suspect I would not be getting the same attention if I were on dialysis. We sit in the big living room for hours and talk about the past, and since it's my show, we talk about anything that comes to my mind. It's a wonderful place. I keep checking with the nurses and doctors about when I'm supposed to take the big sleep. No one has an answer. One doctor says, "It's up to you." And I say, "That's a typical doctor's answer." Everybody wants to please me. Food seems to be very important. One day, I told a friend I'd dreamed of a corned beef sandwich. The next day, I had ten. I've also received dozens of flower arrangements. People don't send roses when you are on dialysis. So far, things seem to be going my way. I am known in the hospice as the Man Who Would Not Die. How long they allow me to stay here is another problem. But in case you're wondering, I'm having the best time of my life. Dying isn't hard. Getting paid by Medicare is. My Own Precious Stone To explain how I landed here, I have to go back to September 28, 2005, when I was feeling fine and celebrating my 80th birthday at the French embassy in Washington, D.C. It was a gala affair attended by 400 people, and it was a fund-raiser for the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence. I remember saying at the time, "Being 80 is a matter of life or death. I chose life. It's a much better position to be in, and it's easier on your back." I also said, "At a certain time in life -- actually, right now -- the two questions that become uppermost in my mind are: What am I doing here? and Where am I going? The first answer is a narcissistic one. I was put on this earth to make people laugh. The second one is much harder -- I have no idea where I'm going, and no one else knows either." I didn't know how smart I was then. All my life, I had assumed my kidneys would not give me problems. The kidney does its duty discreetly and without fanfare. Sonnets, love songs and masterpieces of fiction have been devoted to the heart. Yet if it were not for the kidneys working day and night to excrete poisons from our systems, the heart would not have a chance. But I started paying attention to them when I attempted to pass a kidney stone some years ago in Evansville, Indiana. It was an experience I still haven't forgotten. The only way to describe it is to imagine trying to push the Rock of Gibraltar through the Suez Canal. When someone is climbing the walls trying to eliminate the stone, he will promise anything to get relief. He would give all his worldly possessions for one shot of Demerol. After I had my attack in Evansville, Indiana, the AP wire sent out four paragraphs on the stone. It became famous all over the world, so much so that I received a letter from the United States Geological Survey in Reston, Virginia. These are the folks who study moon rocks. When I returned to Washington, the geologists offered to study my kidney stone. They called it Project Buchwald Stone. Dr. Michael Rubin scoffed at the size of the Buchwald Stone. He said he had passed stones ten times larger, and he wondered if I was just a professional whiner. Dr. Wornick, who also studied my stone, was more sympathetic. He proved that size was not the main factor in a kidney stone's pain. The amount of anguish and screaming was in direct proportion not to the size of the stone, but to the length of the path the stone had traveled. This probably destroyed Dr. Rubin's chance of winning the Nobel Prize. Once the report was in on the stone, people suggested constructing a building to house it. It would be an attraction, like the Dead Sea Scrolls. An Alternative It's amazing how many ideas you can conjure up as a solution to your problems. The first thought I had, as do most people with kidney problems, was, Where can I get a transplant? But people line up, sometimes for years, waiting for a kidney. My doctor said that even if I got in line for a transplant, I'm not a good candidate because of my age and my blood pressure. Plus, the drugs to prevent rejection are risky for someone my age. My daughter-in-law, Tamara, offered to give me one of her kidneys. I, of course, refused. There is something strange about walking around with your daughter-in-law's kidney. Dialysis is like being connected to a washing machine so that all the body's by-products are removed by a blood filtration machine. This means washing out all the toxins three times a week, five hours at a time. I didn't think my kidneys would let me down, given our long relationship. But in fact, they steadily declined, and my doctors told me again that dialysis would soon be necessary. I got mad at my kidneys. I had treated them very well, and this was the gratitude they gave me? Eventually I agreed to dialysis, but I had a counteroffer. Could it wait until after summer? So that was the plan. Then, a few weeks after my wonderful 80th birthday party, I had a sudden onset of terrible pain in my right foot. I called my doctor, Michael Newman, who still makes house calls. He looked at my foot and said I probably had blood clots in the arteries, compromising the circulation. It was an emergency. He drove me to Georgetown University Hospital. The doctors there tried hard to dissolve the clots and re-establish blood flow, but they weren't successful. I would lose my foot and part of my leg. I was not happy. Dr. Newman said if I didn't have my leg removed, I would die of gangrene -- a slow and painful death. It didn't sound very pleasant. As it turned out, the dye used to perform the angiogram added insult to injury. My failing kidneys had now totally failed. I would need to begin dialysis immediately in order to proceed with the amputation. Talk about a double whammy. I was upset, angry and depressed. Still, I agreed to begin dialysis so that my foot and lower leg could be amputated. After surgery, I agreed to continue dialysis, as I was not getting much support from my loved ones for the dying option, which I personally thought was best. I tried dialysis 12 times and decided I didn't like it. "That's it," I said. "I don't see a future in this and I don't want to do it anymore!" I'd discovered the idea of the hospice by then; I had an alternative. Dr. Newman told me, "It's your choice." Poster Boy for Hospice I knew the entire family was against the idea of stopping dialysis. Without dialysis, I would last only a couple of weeks. I realized that by throwing in the towel, I would hurt a lot of people, particularly my children, Jennifer, Joel and Connie. There was tremendous pressure to take dialysis, and there were lots of tears when I broke the news that I was not going to do it. Dr. Newman arranged for me to be transferred to the hospice. It's a nice place, but it's not easy to get into. It's like applying to Harvard. No one gave me a clear idea about what might happen here. And no one mentioned that my condition might actually improve. On February 7, 2006, I was given a room at the Washington Home and Community Hospices, which is on Upton Street, in northwest Washington, D.C. It's a busy street. As I tell visitors, dying is easy. Parking is impossible. The hospice has 14 beds. The average stay here before you go to heaven is a few days to two weeks. If you're going downhill, Medicare pays for it. If your condition stays the same, Medicare may not pick up the tab. The purpose of the hospice is to let you go with dignity and make death easier on you and your family. When a patient enters the hospice, an entire team sets to work to meet the family's needs -- a doctor, a team of nurses, a case manager, a social worker, a chaplain, a nursing assistant, a bereavement coordinator and, of course, the volunteers. My hospice has a large sitting area for families, which I now call my salon. It's quite comfortable, with couches, tables, a library, a children's play area and an aquarium. There's also a large picture window overlooking a beautiful garden with flowers, trees and a fountain. I spend each day greeting friends, watching TV, reading and taking naps. At night, I return to my bedroom. It's very rare that patients ever come out of their bedrooms. The family room is where I hold court and where I said goodbye to people before I realized I wasn't going anywhere just yet. I also use the couch for therapy sessions. My friends will start by talking about my problems but then switch immediately and start telling me about theirs. I charge only $75 an hour, because, after all, you don't want to make money in a hospice. The nurses here do everything for me, including attaching and detaching my new leg. Nurse Jackie Lindsey gives me a bath each morning and dresses me so she won't be ashamed of me when I'm sitting in the salon. Imagine, if you will, that you are a man who can't bathe himself. The person who does it wants you to be clean. I told her once, "That's no fun." Her reply was, "Someone has to do it." The Mother I Never Had I asked Jackie a lot of questions. I asked if she gets attached to her patients. She said, "Some I do, particularly if I've become their confidant and they tell me things they wouldn't tell anyone else. I've found it's harder for the family of the patient to accept what's happening. In most cases -- not all -- the dying person has accepted his fate." I asked her how she could do this work for so long. She said, "I have taken care of 3,000 people over 37 years -- some for several days, some for weeks, and, as in your case, some for months. I consider dying to be a very important part of life. I feel good in the sense that since these people are in pain, and most of them don't have long to live, I can make their journey easier." "When you're taking care of people who are dying," I asked her, "does it help to have a belief in God?" "Yes," she said. "I believe that God is there and wants me to help." Jackie is the mother I never had. My own mother, Helen, was taken away from me right after I was born. She spent the rest of her life in a mental hospital and died in 1958, at age 65. So I never knew her, not when I was growing up in foster homes and not as an adult. I was too afraid to visit her near the end. I thought she wouldn't know me. She died while I was in Europe. As for Pop, I had a strange relationship with my father, Joseph. He was a Sunday father. Since my sisters and I lived in foster homes, he came to visit only on Sundays. He died in 1972, at age 79. Now, at the hospice, nurse Jackie gives me hope, love and encouragement. She listens to all my stories, and I listen to all of hers. It's a comfort. The nurses in the hospice had told my family that death was imminent. (They obviously didn't say it around me.) As time went on, I became the star patient at the hospice, because I didn't go according to plan. Against the odds, my kidneys started working again and could function without dialysis. It was a mystery to my doctors. My friends decided it was a miracle. The employees showed me off to prospective patients and their families. I became the hospice poster boy, and being the ham I am, I enjoyed it. Sweet Dreams (of My Afterlife) Hospices have never gotten much attention because people connect them with death. People are afraid of the mystery of death. Relatives and friends are initially afraid to visit. It's a totally new ball game. Dr. Matthew Kestenbaum, the medical director, told me, "People don't understand the medical role in hospice. We're not here to pull the plug. We let nature take its course. We give folks what they need to be comfortable." Of course, people want to talk about death, if you give them permission. I discovered it made others happy to be able to share fears and questions about dying. To quote Hamlet, "To be or not to be." That's a good question. When people ask me if there's an afterlife, I answer, "If I knew, I would tell you." A friend of mine, Larry Gelbart, said he thinks the end will come when all the phone companies merge and there's only one company left. One day, my friend Morgan asked me, "When you get to heaven and you're poor, can you work your way up to being rich?" I said, "Yes. That's known as the Heavenly Dream." Morgan said, "What about taxes?" I replied, "As far as I know, there are no taxes in heaven. That's why it's called heaven." "That means there are no H&R Block stores up there." "Nope. There isn't even an IRS." "That's the best thing I've heard about heaven so far." I said, "Paying taxes is hell." The important thing about a hospice is that if you can stay long enough, you can say goodbye with dignity. I've heard from everybody in my life -- from my public school days, the University of Southern California, the Marine Corps, my Paris pals, and all the people I knew or who claimed to know me from my days in Washington. I received nearly 3,000 letters. You can also plan your own funeral. My plan was really quite simple. Joseph Gawler's Sons funeral home was down the street from my hospice, so I didn't have far to go. I chose cremation because it would be easier to transport me to my cemetery plot on Martha's Vineyard, where my wife, Ann, who died in 1994, is buried. I'll stay at Gawler's for one night. Then Joel, my son, will keep my ashes at his house in Washington until they can be taken to Martha's Vineyard. They'll travel by plane or by car, whichever is cheaper. As I'm planning my funeral, I keep adding details. I make sure my obituary appears in The New York Times. No one knows whether you've lived or died unless they read it in the Times. I also make sure no head of state or Nobel Prize winner dies on the same day. I don't want them using up my space. I insist that my obituary not say, "He died after a long illness." Instead, I want it to read, "He died on a private tennis court just after he aced Andre Agassi." My funeral will be a small private affair on Martha's Vineyard. The Navy's Blue Angels will fly over, members of the Vineyard Haven Yacht Club will drop their sails, and golfers will observe a minute of silence. Friends on the island will gather at my grave site and sing "Danny Boy" -- my favorite song, though I am Jewish. After the service, people will enjoy cocktails. Wait, there's more. I haven't told you about my memorial service in New York, to be held a week after my burial. The service will take place in Carnegie Hall. During the celebration, my ashes will be sprinkled over every Trump building in New York City. And everyone must leave their watches at the door so they won't be checking the time during the service. Kleenex will be provided. The rabbi at my service will share a few words to warm up the crowd. I don't know him, so whatever he says has to be taken with a grain of salt. Cardinal Egan will also speak and read a letter from the Pope. Billy Graham will read one from the President. I figure that between the three of them, I'm covering all the bases. One of them is bound to know where I'm going. Of course, I don't look like a person who is on his way out. I don't look that way at all. In fact, the first thing everyone says to me when they walk into the living room is, "You've never looked better!" When We Meet at the Pearly Gates People say we can still laugh together. There are things to laugh about in the hospice, as there are in every situation. When my lawyer, Bob Barnett, came to visit, I told him, "If you can get me seven million dollars for my book like you got for Hillary Clinton, I'll start dialysis." Many wonderful people have visited me. Since I have only one leg, I can flirt with the girls and they aren't afraid to flirt back. It's a wonderful game. John Glenn has come to see me. So has Tom Brokaw, many times. Russell Baker has visited me, and Walter Cronkite has been here, which was wonderful because he's the most trusted man in America. Eunice Shriver has stopped by; so has her daughter, Maria. Since I'm name-dropping, the Queen of Swaziland also visited with an entourage of ten beautiful women. There were people who showed up that I couldn't have cared less about. There were others who crashed the gate. They brought me gifts, toys, soup and coffee cake. I couldn't turn them away. One lady brought me computer printouts of every single item that came up about me in a Google search. My doctor gave me a stuffed iguana. My three-year-old grandson brought a brightly colored stuffed grouper fish. Other people gave me paintings and sculpture. I was tempted to open an account with eBay. Photos were also popular, particularly if they were pictures from my past. I pasted many on the walls in my room. Several were of lady friends. Each one thought her photo should have the prime location. People just couldn't believe I was having so much fun. The word began to spread that if you want a good time, head to the Washington Hospice. At the hospice, one of the games we play is connected to a favorite recent book of mine, The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom. It gets one thinking about the five people. I give it a lot of thought. So far, the people on my list are: Ava Gardner, Grace Kelly, Marilyn Monroe, Rita Hayworth and Judas. I don't get much response concerning the women, but there is always hesitation when Judas's name comes up. "Why Judas?" people say. "What would you say to him?" I would ask him about his personal relationship with Jesus. Were they really good buddies, as written in Judas's gospel? Or was he a turncoat? The evidence for Judas being a good guy is very slim. We just have the Judas scroll and Leonardo da Vinci's The Last Supper. For centuries, when people have studied the painting, they have noticed that Judas doesn't seem to be enjoying his wine. Leonardo has 12 disciples painted at Passover, but when you look at them, it's hard to decide which one betrayed Jesus. The Judas scroll is very interesting. It reveals that Jesus asked Judas to betray him. That way, Jesus could fulfill the prophecy and go to heaven to rise again. For 2,000 years, Judas has been accused of being anti-Semitic. When I get to heaven, I hope I can change all this. Come to think of it, I could talk Leonardo into doing a new painting. It would be called The Da Vinci Code. Everybody seems to have different people they want to meet in heaven. Some of the most popular choices are Abraham Lincoln, Cary Grant, Napoleon and Madame Curie. A friend of mine, Albert, asked me why we couldn't list the people we do not want to meet in heaven. He pointed out it's a game people would love to play, and of course, the list is much longer. Now, start writing down the names of people you don't want to meet in heaven. You can eliminate people you don't believe would make it in the first place -- Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Jack the Ripper and Al Capone. It's much more fun to select people who have been involved in your life. I'm still working on my list. There's the coed who dumped me for a fraternity jock, the lady who hijacked my parking space at the mall and laughed when she got out of the car, the insurance claims adjuster who wouldn't pay for damages to my house, and the Japanese soldier whose life I spared in the Pacific during World War II and who later sold me a Honda. Surprise, Surprise! After nearly five months in the hospice, I find out I'm not going to heaven immediately. My doctor informs me that I can stop over at my home on Martha's Vineyard. For reasons even the doctors can't explain, what started out as a three-week deathwatch turned into five months of living, eating and laughing with friends. Because of all the publicity I'd gotten, the National Hospice Foundation made me their man of the year. The truth is that I've had such a good time at the hospice, I'm going to miss it. I never realized dying could be so much fun. I called up the TV stations and newspapers and asked if they would like to make a correction and retract their original story. They said they never correct stories about people who claimed they were dying and didn't. So this is where I am now. I'm still seeing friends, but instead of saying farewell, we discuss the Redskins. I don't know how long I'll be here on Martha's Vineyard. But if nothing else, I know I made an awful lot of people happy. So I hope you don't feel you were duped. The moral of the story is, Never trust your kidneys. Too Soon to Say Goodbye, copyright © 2006 by Art Buchwald, is published at $17.95 by Random House, Inc., 1745 Broadway, New York, New York 10019 Last Updated: 2007-01-18 As i read this story this morning, I thought of Frank Lamb. Frank has one of the greatest senses of humour, I think. Not saying he is the only one, Cause he is not. His situation though currently made me think of him. I think he would be laughing his arse off if he could, after reading this. Frank We are Praying for you friend Quote Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
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