Friday, August 14, 2009

Caregiving: Revisiting Pushy Loudmouths

Warning: this one's a bit dark. There are few dilemmas in life as distressing as trying to help an elderly friend or family member through a health crisis...especially when age and bad advice cause unwise choices to be made.

There is an elderly person in my life (we'll call her Dorothy) with serious health problems which doctors have been unable to rectify. I've come up with a last-ditch strategy based on exhaustive research plus my own experience with similar health problems. I'm pretty sure it's the best way to go, and there's not much time left. But a willfully ignorant (and stupendously controlling) person - we'll call her Greta - is also trying to help. Greta gets her dodgy information from pseudo-science and from quacky web sites, and has shockingly little discernment, though she's staunchly confident in her conclusions.

Dorothy has lost judgement with age. She'll adopt whichever course of action is most fervently hammered at her. And Greta excels at ferventness; she's always prepared to tenaciously screech and shove to get her way. I can't possibly win the battle. Dorothy will be bedridden if her issues are not properly handled, but the only course for me is to detach. That's the wise option - I can't win the shouting match, and even musty-headed people do have the right to choose. Dorothy's chosen the louder voice.

But here's the thing: Dorothy is a person for whom I'd place myself in profound physical danger. I'd fight big scary people, at long odds, to rescue her. Yet I've capitulated so easily here. Should I step up to the plate and violently shove my agenda? Should I contest mental competence, seek custodianship, and do battle against indomitable Greta, who's likely to unwittingly kill her? I'd surely make enemies of them both, and the fight would make me miserable...but it might save a life.

Those are rhetorical questions, of course. There are no easy answers.

I've previously written about how, in collaborative efforts, the pushiest loudmouths always win, and how reasonable folks learn to shrug off fights and cede ground. But when stakes rise, that dynamic really gets tested...


Chuck said...

What a tough situation. I'm sorry.

Perhaps it is possible to, if not outshout Greta, out-love Greta. Be more present, more involved, more giving, and an obviously closer and more genuine friend around these issues.

And there may be other ways of shouting, of turning up the volume of data, of proof, and of expert opinions. Bombard your friend with every bit of evidence on the web rebutting the pseudo-science. Seek allies in the hospital or with the oncologists or whoever else is providing her care and have them write recommendations or speak with her. One after another in a wave that reinforces the better option.

I know your questions were rhetorical, and I hope these ideas are at the least not insulting though I know they're probably not helpful.

Anonymous said...

Jim, be a good friend. Go to the mat (or the mattresses.) You know the right thing to do. So do it. I know, easier said, etc., but having done this for several parents, you will no regret being the best advocate possible for this valued friend/loved one. In healthcare, it's really true, the big mouth/greasy wheel gets the grease. You're smart, you're articlulate, use it for good...

Blog Archive