Sunday, March 13, 2011

"The Journey We Take Alone?"

NOTE to readers: Writer Alexander Prisant, a contributor to MyStoryLives, has a very difficult story to tell. In his email to me, he explained it this way: "Without being melodramatic, I just may be entering my final illness." He is determined to write his way through this ultimate of experiences, and he asked for my help and support.

By Alexander Prisant

Death is the one thing you cannot do too well on Facebook.

Trained “professionals” now sit with the terminally ill or the elderly, or the enfeebled and talk about the ancillaries to death—would you like a feeding tube, if need be? More chemo? Would you like to be revived after a massive heart attack that has messed up your brain? What does your family think (as if anyone really, really knew)?

But still, we mostly just dance around the edges when we discuss death. No one is talking about the essence of You. About your eradication. About the final, lonely, scary solitude of the absolute end of everything you ever were about. About the very, very last line on your resume. About extinguishing your soul, your being. A total, singular eclipse.

And how could they -- after all, we have damn little first-hand experience with death. So we avoid the true, Real Discussion of Death, or even the flip side of that coin—the Fight for Life.

Most of us don’t have a clue what to do with either topic, and so we run the other way. Most of us don’t know what really runs through the mind of someone fighting for life, or just waiting to die. It’s the raison d’etre for the axiom: Dying is something we each must do alone (after all, who would want to do it with you?)

Despite it all, I’m hoping your own mortality may be worth a pinch of effort here, America. Maybe before you have to confront it, possibly my journey can prove A) instructive, B) a distraction, C) a wake-up call, or D) just a moment of self-reflection.

Right now I’m on that fight-for-life---waiting-for-death continuum, depending on how you or the doctors want to look at it.

But I have a small idea that there may be a way to use this to shed a little light that may help us all, down the road. Me, included.

We’re a talkative people in a noisy nation, but for all the calls for “debate” and “transparency” and better listening, on a slew of urgent issues, there’s little of it. (Has any culture ever ranted on so much about “transparency,” to so little effect?) We can spend a year or two on health reform and 10 years on Afghanistan, but there’s never any actual debate outside some secret think tank under Pentagon contract, where you’re never invited.

Sound bytes? Yes. The lobbing of flashy partisan bomblets at the other side? Yes. Factually fraudulent one-liners? Yes. But honest-to-goodness, sleeves-rolled-up, open-minded listening and reflection? No. Never.

And why me? Because medically I seem to have compiled, against all odds, a story that has proven the exception to the rule.

Over decades.

Before you get anywhere near this continuum, I’m foolish enough to think my journey might help the debate that’s going on inside you about what you’re doing and how you hope to escape at the end.

It’s true that my life has already been saved more times by more medical teams than you could shake a stick at, over several decades. More times than the Dodgers have won the pennant in all baseball history. Being astonishingly ill at birth gave me a head start. So now, even one of those unflappable, by-the-book cardiologists volunteers that my story is “compelling.”

I should start by telling you there is no medical literature that can explain how I’m sitting here writing to you right now; how I’ve survived even the last few years, let alone all the years before, let alone the first day of my life.

The doctors say my body is not normal, but that’s too benign and casual a remark. This is never told to me boost spirits. It’s just another small fact for them. It’s also the reason they can run 100 tests on me or you and then ask: “How do you feel?”

Because ‘normal’ is a meaningless word and they’ll give your personal, unscientific opinion about your own body at a fleeting moment as much credence as any single test. What does that tell you?

So as someone who’s “not supposed to still be here,” I will try to write you through what I’ve faced all these years. And thereafter jot down a sort of diary -- stream of consciousness facts, developments and observations, as we move down yet another new road.

I intend to start tomorrow. Are you coming along?

Writer Alexander "Sandy" Prisant, formerly a Vice President of a large Silicon Valley company, keeps a blog called Wordsmith Wars. Stay tuned, as Sandy is committed to writing a diary that he is calling "his last writing project."


Dr. Mel Waldman said...

Dear Alesander "Sandy" Prisant:

Your story touched me. I too have come close to death in my 66 years on this planet. I think about it a lot because of my own mortality, the loved ones I have already lost, and the tragic stories of the patients I have treated.

Although on any given day, I may be an atheist, agnostic, or theist, I will pray for you. In the past few years, I have become more intimate with my G-d, Hashem (the Name). At this point in my life, I seek proof of His existence. I ponder metaphysical issues such as the nature of reality (Ontology) and the origin of the universe Cosmology). I also ask: What is proof of His existence? If He exists, why is there suffering and evil? Is there life after death? Is there a soul? Does the soul survive death? Are we reunited with our loved ones? Or is there just the finality of death, a cold coffin, return to dust and nothing more? I don't know. But I'm compelled to ask these existential questions.

I'm coming along on your journey. Who knows what we will discover?

A fellow traveler on the Road of Life and Death,

Dr. Mel Waldman

Nancy Dunlop said...

An elegant, worthy and brave project of import to others. Thank you.

Unknown said...

A worthy and instructive project of import to others, written with clarity and elegance. Thank you for opening up this dicussion!

Sandy Prisant said...

Dr Waldman

As we move through middle age and do nothing more than observe the world around us and humanity and nature behave in case after case, it behoove many of us to ask those existential questions, making us truly fellow travelers.

A S Prisant

Dr. Mel Waldman said...

Dear Sandy Prisant:

Just today, the spiritual conversation continued at the mental health clinic where I humbly serve as director. Andrew, one of my seasoned therapists and in-house philosophers, explored with me the meaning of life and the gamut of existential questions. All this occurred within the eternity of a few minutes when Andrew waited for his next patient to arrive.
We reflected on the fact that human beings have the gift of consciousness. We have been granted the ability to explore our mortality and the miracle of life. I also added my belief that we participate in tikkun olam, the healing and repair of the world. Although I struggle with my faith, I think we share the mission of healing and co-creation with G-d, if He exists. And if He doesn’t exist, we still share the purpose of making this imperfect universe a little better.
So it goes. Your words move me. And so I speak to you and others with my words. And perhaps, my words touch someone else and that person responds in kind. We are forming a chain of love and healing. Now, isn’t that what life is all about?

Dr. Mel Waldman

joniwriter said...

Sandy, I admire your courage and thank you for sharing your story with us. I can not even begin to imagine how difficult it has been for you. But pray that the universe gives you the strength to carry on in your struggle, and that the struggle gives way to miraculous moments of inner peace, beauty and joy with those you love. May you receive many blessings along your journey.

Joan Daidone
Fellow traveler