When retired English teacher Deirdre Dunstable suffers a stroke, her world implodes.

Once feisty and independent, she finds herself trapped and vulnerable in an aged-care facility. 

Deirdre finally manages to convince one of the carers to help her leave.

A young Tamil asylum seeker, Selva has escaped from a regime far more brutal than that of the care home.

Terrified at the prospect of being returned to the care facility, and fearing that she may be resuscitated against her will, Deirdre and Selva try to navigate the last stages of her life and the beginning of a new life for him.

 

Sharing past traumas, they come to understand that

‘It is only in the shelter of each other that the people live’. 

“One of the things a writer is for is to say the unsayable, speak the unspeakable and ask difficult questions.”

Salman Rushdie

 

… I have tried to do this with help from Deirdre, Selva and their closest friends.

 

Say the unsayable:

In times past, when people became old or sick enough, it was accepted that they would die. Then came medical technology and intensive care units that enabled doctors to keep people alive for longer. This was sometimes great news and sometimes not so much.

When people can’t speak up for themselves, doctors often find themselves using cutting-edge technology to treat them, while worrying whether this is the right thing for that patient.

Intubated, sedated, fed through tubes and surrounded by unfamiliar faces, did the patient wish for such treatment? They hadn’t said anything earlier - and now they couldn’t say.  

Their family may see or sense their loved one’s distress – but what could they say if they didn’t know for sure what their loved one wanted??

 

Deirdre knew this and went to great lengths to say what she wanted, and to alert others and make sure her wishes were understood and respected.

 

Speak the unspeakable:

‘I would hate the indignity. Let me die’.

‘I would never have wanted this. If I get very infirm, just push me over a cliff’.

‘I don’t want to end up being a burden on my family – I’d rather be dead.’

 

It's difficult to even think about these matters, let alone speak about them, but speaking is a good way to start.

Speak with your family, tell them what you would want – ask them what they would like if they became sick and unable to communicate. Promise to help them and to observe their wishes, and ask them in turn to respect yours.

 

Deirdre spoke about this with Selva, who was caring for her, with her lawyer who was helping her organise her affairs, and most importantly with her GP, who helped her to write an Advance Care Plan.  

 

Ask difficult questions:

‘What would you (or I) not want to happen to us at the end of our lives?’

‘How will others know when it’s time to stop trying to keep me alive?’

 

Deirdre didn’t want to be resuscitated and returned to a nursing home, neither did she want to be treated in hospital. Selva had to learn to respect her wishes.