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What I Really Know About Tough Choices: Beating the Odds

“When they get this bad, we pull the plug,” the night nurse in charge of the Intensive Care Unit confided.

“But she’s conscious,” I exclaimed.

“Yes, that’s why we don’t do it,” she stated matter-of-factly.

I had just arrived at the hospital. My 93-year-old mother—who lived alone, still drove and had worked until she was 81—was in the ICU with pneumonia. She had also suffered a heart attack there.

I got right to the point. “Do you want to live?” I asked my mother. Full of life-support tubes and other medical paraphernalia, she could only nod her head vigorously in the affirmative.

I then spoke with the cardiologist. “She has no chance. None,” he told me.

I grinned. “For the sake of argument, let’s say she has a 10,000-to-1 chance of survival.”

“Yessss,” he answered warily.

“She’ll take it.”

“What?” he exclaimed.

“She’ll take it. Prepare her to live.”

With that, the cardiologist turned my mother’s case over to the pulmonary specialist and took himself off the case. “I’ll do what I can,” the more positive pulmonary doctor told me.

Next day, family and her minister came to pray and pay what they supposed were their final respects.

The following day, I saw the pulmonary doctor walking toward me in the hospital hallway. He stopped, pointed two thumbs up, and said, “Yes!”

Once out of ICU, my delighted mother was soon released from the hospital, waving merrily to all she encountered along the way, not a tube in sight. After a stint in rehab, she agreed to enter an independent living facility, where she spent what she described as “the happiest years of my life” before dying quietly at age 98.


The AARP Bulletin’s What I Really Know column comes from our readers. Each month we solicit personal essays on a selected topic and post some of our favorites in print and online. Babette Joan Kiesel is a reader from Chichester, N.Y.

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