The Myth of Invincibility

Are you invincible? Can your daily exercise regimen and strict diet really save you from going into palliative and hospice care in the future?  If you had a chance to have your life extended via extraordinary measures, would you grab that opportunity? 

As a professor of Medical Biochemistry, I often read articles on advancements in the prevention and treatment of disease.  Concepts such as early diagnosis and prediction of illness through genetic analysis are no longer science fiction topics.  Cancer, in its early stages, has slowly become treatable, thanks to new techniques and drugs that target cancer cells with less side effects.  Stem cell treatments are available in some centers, with the promise of maintaining health and restoring one’s body to its optimum condition.

“We know for a fact that no one is spared from the ravages of decline.”

Humans have this desire towards maintaining youth and vitality. Death and dying, and the processes associated with it, are not always given a second thought.  Yet, we know for a fact that no one is spared from the ravages of decline.

 Add to this the fact that our less than ideal health care system does not enable us to access the best care at the end of life.  Our out-of-pocket health expenses continue to rise, according to the Philippine Statistics Authority. Thus, when we age, we often bear the burden of spending for our health care needs.  This is too much for most ordinary Filipinos living at or below the poverty line.  And most of the time, this burden is left to those we leave behind.

So what do we do about this? The simple answer is, you plan it.  Just like any business or career, you do what you can today to realize benefits in the future.  You do not just plan to live longer – you also take steps to make provisions for the inevitable.  And the principles for a good end of life are just like your preparations for career and financial success.

Planning starts with a vision.  So where would you like to stay? Would you prefer to be hospitalized, or do you want to stay home? What environment would you like to have? Who are the people you would long to be with?  How much do you have now, in terms of finances?  What can you do to augment it?

If you are diagnosed with a life-threatening illness, what kind of treatment do you want to undergo? Are you open to cardiopulmonary resuscitation? Will you opt for aggressive and highly invasive treatments to preserve your life?  Or would you prefer to have a natural, dignified death? Advanced directives are not just for you, but for your loved ones too.  That’s why they’re called directives – they give you direction.  You also need to know your illness trajectory.  How long am I expected to live? What are the pros and cons of undergoing treatment?  Remember that prolonging your life is not the only desirable outcome.  Quality of life is an important consideration as well.    

“Find a higher reason for your existence.  Never let the spectre of dying one day take away from your ultimate purpose.”

 Who do you trust to make medical decisions for you?  When you are in no position to decide, someone must do it for you.  Tell this person your desires; hopefully, he or she knows you very well.  And when the time comes, put all your trust and confidence in him or her.

Have these directives and plans on paper.  This document needs to be available when the time comes.  But it is by no means permanent; you can change your directives as you see fit.  Every six months or so, you may review what is written and have it changed if necessary.

Finally, find a higher reason for your existence.  Never let the spectre of dying one day take away from your ultimate purpose. We will never know the exact date and time when we have to go. So start now, no matter what health condition you are in.  It is never too early, and definitely not too late.  Do good today and reap the benefits tomorrow.  Lend a helping hand to those in need.  Be open to new ideas.  Enjoy life.  Create transfiguration moments for you and your loved ones.  After all, you are here on earth to live.  You may not be invincible, but you are valuable.