Dying in Modern Hospitals
Recently, I happened to come across an article of some Indian persons (sons & daughters of the deceased) blaming a particular Indian Hospital and the Doctors for the death of their father. Perhaps, they have good reason. The article brought forth numerous feelings of my experiences with the dying and their family members. In this article, I share my perspectives on this journey to death. It is not directed towards any particular individual or persons. Instead, it is aimed at the general public with the hope of changing the current situation. I hope that the reader will take my writing on the spiritual aspect seriously & personally to change themselves in a positive way. I wish to make a few pointed observations on the situation of dying people in India today & perhaps some other parts of the world too, where they may have similar circumstances.
As a Sannyasi (Hindu Monk), I have been called a few times to the Hospitals, usually in and around Delhi, to bless, meet and support senior people who have been on their death bed. There are numerous aspects of the entire situation. Let me start by saying that some of these people who died were people whom I had known for a very long time. Some whom I had known since I was a child, some of them were quite close to me, so I can understand the pain that the relatives go through. Off course, my spiritual background does tend to make me better prepared to face such a situation compared to the average person, but nevertheless, I too feel their pain.
When the doctors treat a patient, from a Doctors perspective, if they are genuine Doctors, they keep trying to save the person’s life, always believing that they can do so. I believe that is the correct attitude, for only a doctor who believes he /she can save a patient can be considered a true healer.
However, on the other side of the coin, Hospitals have become businesses and when Doctors put aside their ethics to treat patients like a money making machine, it is extremely inhuman. Somebody else’s grief, pain and misfortune convert into their wealth. Often, the dying are put through prolonged treatments, often before their deaths. These prolonged treatments of old persons become truly despicable especially if the treatment is prolonged beyond the reality of the situation & often beyond reasonable possibility of a cure. Often, the doctors put these senior people through numerous emergency procedures to try to save them, but often, Doctors will know from experience, deep within them, if the patient will survive or die. They will know the success rate of the emergency procedure in the given circumstances. Once in a while, the doctor may be surprised but that is more of an exception. To the onlooker, it often appears as though they keep trying to save the patient’s life. But, Is it that the Hospital & Doctors are merely making money well knowing that the patient will soon die anyway? It can be very confusing to understand and decide for the onlooker.
In numerous cases, after the insurance runs out, the relatives gather all the money that they can from all sources, often running into debt. Whereas, the family member (patient) who is sick does not get well or survive, the relatives are left with an enormous financial debt. In short, this attitude of the Doctors of making money, while a senior family member is dying, ends up making the life & future of the surviving family members very unpleasant. Perhaps, all the money spent may not have mattered so much if the person had survived. Prolonging a treatment with the sole aim of making money by Hospitals & Doctors is despicable & people should combat such Hospitals and Doctors who work unethically as this is truly dreadful.
But I wish to raise a very serious point. This problem of prolonged treatment is a much more serious one than the issue of ethics of Doctors or the money spent by the relatives or the money swindled by the Hospitals. After, seeing a few people dying I have come to realize that in modern times, they can die a very violent death within the confines of a Hospital while under the treatment of a Doctor. In one case, as a lady lay on her deathbed, her legs were amputated. Her daughter came upto me in deep despair and said “Swamiji, What kind of life will she have even if she survives? It is better that she goes.” The girl was very close to her mother & I knew this family since I was a child and the daughter since she was maybe five years old. Truly, that violence was painful.
Instead of letting senior aged citizens die in peace, the parting gift of modern Doctors and Hospitals with the consent of the relatives to their elderly parents is to subject them to a Deep Trauma.
My appeal to people is “Your parents will eventually die. Please, I request you, be prepared for their death. Let them die in peace, in quiet, in silence near their loved ones. Be prepared to let them go. Do not allow the Doctors to be violent with them. Do not maltreat them at their very end. Respect their bodies. Stop this brutalization of their bodies & violence against your helpless parents and let them pass away peacefully into another life.” After all, according to Hindu belief—He who is born will die and he who dies unless liberated will be reborn. Let old people die peacefully without clinging to life, for life finds its way and the person will be reborn to continue their journey to realization.
Perhaps, India needs a new approach to this entire gruesome problem. Maybe, the people, Doctors and Hospitals need to start some separate humane centers for the aged & dying, such as those that exist in the some western countries.
One has to learn to accept the harsh truth that people are not going to live forever and one must learn to let go. One should be prepared to face the death of a near, dear and close relative such as one’s parents. Each of you must understand that your parents will not be with you forever. Celebrate each moment of life, by serving them and giving them the best you can, while they are here in this world with you. So that when they are gone you do not regret your own unavailability & inability to serve or love them. Make every contact & every moment matter. Make their lives as happy as you can & always remember how they looked after you as a child. Unfortunately, too many people are busy living their lives, having forgotten their parents, who they visit once in a while. Time flies faster than anything else, so make good use of it while you can.
The relatives of the dying too should be prepared to let go & realize that their elders cannot live forever. In one instance, when a person called me to the Hospital, it was clear to me that this particular person’s mother who was hospitalized would die. The attending Doctor too had realized this. He, for professional reasons, did not consider it appropriate to speak to the patient’s relative (son) directly and therefore asked another Doctor to speak to the relative to give him this information. When the second Doctor tried to tell him diplomatically that his mother’s time had come, the son was so distraught that he refused to listen to the Doctor and became very upset with him. So the attending Doctor was forced to continue the treatment which he knew was heading nowhere. Eventually, she died. Thinking back, when I remember that incident, I commend the Doctor for trying to tell the truth. But the Son was unprepared to let his mother go, he was unprepared to face the truth of her leaving him. I had known them for a very long time. The mother on her part while she was alive, had not really cared to live and when she was dying—she did not want to die. Time during her life and life itself had not mattered as she had lived in the past; she had never really cared for or lived in the present & she had never prepared for the future, for her death.
So the dying too, do not prepare for death. Each person must prepare for death. It is interesting, if at all, how the modern material person prepares for death. Usually, it is all about money, wealth, property, insurance, benefits to the living & the survivors, division of the property & wealth, etc. In short, the attention is on the continuity of life rather than on death itself. Some persons may pay some attention on the sickness in old age & insurance for it. In some traditions, there may also pay some attention on the place of burial and the casket. But that is again for the material ends of the body. It turns out that the modern person has done no real preparation for death, as the mind is unprepared to face Death. Do most people practice anything special, any spiritual technique that will calm the mind, which will help in crossing over to a new life? Preparing for death is actually learning to live life as a compassionate spiritual being, for only then can the inner strength of the person allow one to face death. This calm will come only as a result of the philosophical understanding & spiritual practices as well as the way one has lived life. The truth is that anyone can die anytime, for death never comes announced. Therefore, one must prepare for it.
Why this clinging to life? Why this wish to live forever? Why not prepare to leave gracefully into the brightness of a new life?
But people are scared of death and even the very mention of the word ‘death’ scares some persons. Life has many realities & one of them is death. Whoever is born will die. And each day as we grow older, each day as we live longer, we are going closer to our deaths. So aren’t we all dying? Each one of us is heading towards the mouth of death, yet no one is prepared and much more than that, no one ever thinks of preparing for such an event. The result of that is that we live life as if we are never going to die and die never having done all that which we really needed to do.
Practice some spiritual technique so as to live life better and to die more peacefully. People enjoy living a good & comfortable life while never really giving time to their spiritual development. They say they don’t have time. No one says they forgot to eat their meals, or to look after their bodies, to bathe or to clothe or to groom themselves, but—do they ever think of or remember to nourish their mind and spiritual self? The reason for this predicament especially of Hindus is due to their distancing themselves from their spiritual traditions while rolling in the dirt of the material world. We must not forget our traditions especially the philosophical & spiritual ones. One of the easiest spiritual techniques which are practiced in almost all spiritual as well as religious traditions is the practice of mantra. The practice of mantra creates a very powerful samskar & helps a person to cross over into the next life. If received from a proper Guru, the mantra can become a very potent means for self transformation. The mantra can be done at most times of the day, for example, while one travels daily to office or home or whenever a person has some time. So prepare for your death by living each day with the calmness, fortitude and a deep inner strength that death should be unable to shake. Be Compassionate, loving, and learn to bring joy and happiness to others. Connect with your deeper spiritual self to live life well & to die gracefully.