Elder Use of Marijuana
INTERESTING STUFF – 25 February 2017

Do You Want to Know When You Will Die?

That headline is a more interesting question, I think, for people of the general age (50- or 60-plus) who read this blog than younger people. As it turns out, two new studies released just this week has some answers.

One involved face-to-face interviews with 1,016 adults living in Germany. The other featured similar interviews with 1,002 adults living in Spain. As reported in Pacific Standard,

”Asked if they would want to have an exact time stamp on their eventual death, 87.7 percent of Germans said no. Only 4.2 percent said yes, while 8.2 percent were uncertain.

“A similar percentage, 87.3 percent, did not want to know the cause of their death...

“Spanish participants'...answers on the negative news items were very similar to those of the Germans.”

In announcing the publication of the study, lead author, Gerd Gigerenzer of the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin wrote that “deliberate ignorance” is a “widespread state of mind” and

”...was more likely the nearer the event. For example, older adults were less likely than younger adults to want to know when they or their partner would die, and the the cause of death.”

That makes sense to me. Until 40 or so, most of us believe we are immortal so the idea of one's own death is mainly hypothetical. At my age now, nearly 76, death has become very real and recently, I find Gigerenzer's “deliberate ignorance” a state of mind I'm clinging to for - well, dear life.

Since mid-November, a mystery malady has been plaguing me. His disinterest in the many symptoms led me to fire my previous physician and I found a new one I like better. There is no obvious diagnosis so since late December, I have been undergoing the many tests he has arranged for me.

Medtests3

About once a week, sometimes twice, I drive to the giant medical center he is associated with for a screening – sometimes for blood, other times for x-rays of this or that body part and this week a bone scan.

These are not just to track down what my malady might be. It is also that because I've spent the greater part of my life avoiding doctors and most medical tests, the new doc wants a baseline for future reference.

I can't argue with that but here's the problem: I'm just about the best example you're ever going to find of Gigerenzer's “deliberate ignorance.”

In our brave new world of electronic medical records, I can find out the results of the tests almost by the time I drive home. And when that doesn't happen, they are posted by the next day when an email alerts me to their availability. It never fails – except -

Except once. And that's where my “deliberate ignorance” kicks in, leaving me now gasping in fear when I allow myself to think about that exception.

Every result so far has been in the healthy range of whatever was being tested. I've been incredibly lucky that way all my life.

But for all that good news, there was this: no email and nothing posted to my online medical records after the CT scan of my lungs for cancer two weeks ago. It's not that I've missed it. I check for it every morning.

Let's see if I can explain the emotion of this. With no posted results, I can live in (supposedly) happy “deliberate ignorance.” But not really. I smoked for many decades and three relatives died of various cancers so this test is more fraught that simple blood draws.

The question rolls around in my head: What could that anomalous missing report mean?

As my thinking goes, there must be something so terribly wrong with that CT scan that they don't want to cause a heart attack by having me read it at home alone.

I could email or phone the doctor but as much as this is eating at me, I also don't want to hear terrible news. So I wait and worry trying to be happy in my “deliberate ignorance” until my next scheduled doctor appointment in early March - which, given these circumstances I would rather skip so to remain in my "deliberate ignorance."

I'm fully aware that there could be other reasons for not posting scan results (although I can't figure what they would be). That doesn't help. And I am equally aware that my fear of a deadly diagnosis is not in keeping with my genuine relief at living in a state with an assisted suicide law, as we've discussed in these pages.

Inconsistency, thy name is human.

My uneasiness in this circumstance is not unique and the growing sophistication of medical tests and diagnoses will soon leave many more patients in similarly difficult emotional places at much younger ages, as the researchers note:

”...gene-based medicine 'will put more and more people into situations where they have to decide whether they want to know future health issues.'”

The reporter of the Pacific Standard story explained further:

”In the not-too-distant future, we’ll be able to discover whether we are prone to a variety of diseases. Knowing such information could help us make major life decisions in an informed, thoughtful way.

“But we can only take advantage of this information if we can...emotionally handle the knowledge of when and how we are likely to die. And when that subject is broached, our impulse seems to be to run as fast as we can in the other direction.”

Yup. That is exactly what I'm going through right now – terrified of a bad diagnosis that will turn me into a professional patient. I've been afraid of that for as long as I can remember.

The full study, co-authored by Rocio Garcia-Tetamero of the University of Granada, is available online in the Psychological Review. [pdf]

Comments

A dear friend of mine passed away Wednesday and I don't know what she died of.
She complained of nausea and dizziness and was sent to the hospital by her doctor for tests and after nearly two weeks there, she just died.
She and I had the same doctor, but due to doctor/patient confidentiality (which evidently extends past death) he won't tell me anything.
She was much younger than I, but she always said that she would go before me.
Of course I dismissed that as being the idle thoughts of a silly person, but now I wonder if we all have some built in premonition related to our demise.

If you haven't run into examples of record keeping problems from this new doctor's office, that lack of MRI report could be the one glitch in the process, but if something of concern has appeared in that test most offices will call immediately to set up an appointment. Feel better? No?

Would calling their office and asking why the results of that test haven't appeared in your account set your mind at rest? Early March isn't far off unless you're stressing - then it seems like for-ever. Why let your imagination make you miserable until then?

Totally understand the fear component. If it were me, I'd be on the phone to check on possible glitch, or to get a new appointment. May you have another good diagnosis!

Lauren's advice is good.

If you have put your affairs in order (living will, etc.) I do not see an advantage in knowing when you are going to die. We all know we are going to die sometime and should live each day as if it were our last one. Easier said than done, of course.

It seems to me that knowing the exact day of our death would hang over our heads like a Damocles Sword and sour the happy times with that knowledge.

I absolutely understand your embrace of "deliberate ignorance"; I've always found it a necessary coping device.

The question "Do You Want to Know When You Will Die?" hits a little close to home, as I was diagnosed with an incurable form of blood cancer about two years ago at age 62. The answer is still no.

When my mother was in her early eighties she made one of her rare visits to the doctor—I am not sure what symptom it was that took her there, as I was not around at the time—and the doctor found an unexplained mass in her abdomen. The next step, naturally, would have been a test of some sort. But Mother said no, she didn't want any tests. And she didn't want any treatment either. Whatever it was, she said, would either go away or would kill her but either way it was OK, as she'd had a good life.

She was nearly ninety when 'whatever it was' did in fact kill her. She had enjoyed her life in the meantime. And when the time came, although there had been some pain and discomfort on the last day, she died peacefully in her sleep that night. She had never wanted a diagnosis and was never given one. Her doctor, who put one (some sort of cancer) on the death certificate, said to me afterwards, "Your mother had a wonderful attitude. I really admired her for the way she handled it."

I second or third the advice from Lauren. And very happy to be excluded from the future medical 'advances' of early or probable/possible diagnoses.

For now I hope you can relax (if you choose not to contact them now, there's nothing better to do) and soon receive positive results. Many of us get a tad restless whenever a new symptom arrives or a cough doesn't go away, etc. It's part of our aging process. Hoping all the best for you, Ronni.

Interesting subject, Ronni.
I'd probably want to know: Knowledge is power, and all that.
On those tests. Again, something like this just happened to me.
A test result came thru, but the page, except for the heading, was completely blank. Fortunately, within 24 hours an email came from my MD saying "nothing exciting was found, see you in early March." Nevertheless, when I see her, I intent to ask for the results of the test anyhow, just for intellectual curiosity if nothing else.
It does seem that, since we are no longer children in need of protection, that we can receive the results of our own tests.

The problem of waiting for your appointment to find out the results is --- if the results have been lost --then you have to continue your wait and stress while the test is repeated. Or--The button to send the negative results your way might not have been pushed by the tech.

And, stress at our age is not good for our health and you are using up precious reserves by maybe worrying for nothing.

So call the office---

Easy for me to say--- right?

The waiting game is such a source of worry. Not sure with latest technology, but CT scans in my experience have taken time for results as a specialist is often needed to read the results. Doesn't help perhaps to say don't worry, but try not to let it get too much hold of you.

Always the chance that if something was found, they would be calling you to come in sooner.

I am on the side of I don't want to know when. Just knowing would so alter the state of being in the present. My husband and I have estate planning and such done, but find the anticipation of planning ahead from day to day and year to year is a part of what keeps us looking forward.

Calming thoughts are coming your way and hopes for a more definitive diagnosis for your symptoms.

Bruce, I'm sorry for your loss of your friend. It has to be hard not to know what happened.

Ronni, for what it's worth - Whenever I have had less than great test results, I received a call from the doc right away with an explanation and request to redo the test or see a specialist or whatever next step is appropriate. Thus, I'd think this is just a mishap in recording the information, and I would make a call.

I would not want to know the time and method of my demise in advance! Lordy.

Despite today's technology, a human still has to remember to enter the test results to be sent to you. Like others here, I'd have been on the phone immediately asking for those results. And lest you assume the worst because you haven't been notified and, like me, you've always thought doctors don't deliver bad news on the phone ... my doctor called me with my cancer diagnosis. I was doubly stunned, because when the call came in, I immediately assumed it must be good news ... and then she delivered the bad news. All in all it was probably better than if she'd called me in to her office. I'd have been in a state of dread for as long as it took to get to her office -- and then I'd have had to drive home in a state of shock.

Yes, now I can add possible recurrence and treatment aftereffects to the long list of things that might kill me, and I stress about those a lot, but I still don't want to know when, what, or how.

Call your doctor, Ronni. Today. Not knowing is worse than knowing.

Marian, I hope I can be as tough as your mother! I admire her attitude so much.

Looking forward, I can see my and my husband's calendar gradually accumulating doctors. Past about 40-50, it seems everything gets "treated" but nothing gets resolved. Rather, there's a long tail of tests, re-tests, treatment, more treatment ... I think most TGB readers have been (or are) there.

I've learned to ask much tougher questions about prognoses. Will this help? For how long? And at what cost in pain (and, of course, money)? I hope I'll be gutsy enough to say "this stops here" when it's clear that futility awaits.

But Ronni ... you're not there yet. When you're ready, email the doctor's office about that test (it's easier to email than call, I always find because you can think out your end of the conversation in advance.) You can always say "stop" to the professional patient conveyor belt--remember those permission forms we all have to sign before the next "procedure"?

It's hard to remember we have rights when we're terrified.

An interesting and provocative post. Who can know what to do in your case -- only you -- but I would think that letting much time go by (no pun intended) before notifying you of anything serious that had been noticed would leave your doctor open to to possible charges of negligence which he would not welcome. Some doctors say that if you don't hear anything, that means that nothing was found, or he may have contacted you and something happened on the receipt of this information at your end, there are many possibilities.

I completely understand and share your increasing position of "deliberate ignorance," and suspect that there are far more people in that boat with us than we might ever imagine. I suppose that what you do now depends on what you tolerate better -- anxiety associated with knowing or not knowing. You've received many good suggestions here; I hope that what ever you choose to do and what ever type of news you receive, that it at least brings some relief.

This reminds me of a movie preview I just saw last night. In "A Brand New Testament," the daughter of God--a rebellious type--tells everyone the date of their death. By the preview, it seems to be a comedy aimed at showing what people might do if they had this knowledge. I've often puzzled over the question of would I want to know in a case like yours, Ronni, and I always answer yes. But who knows what I would actually do. I recently fretted while awaiting the results of my annual diabetes test, because it runs heavily in my family. I almost didn't want to know the results, yet I insist on having the test every year. It was negative, so I dodged the bullet again.

As a 3-time cancer survivor (30 years ago, 25 years ago, and 3 years ago) I can tell you that in each case the doctor was on the phone with the results as soon as he (or she) received them.
I understand your worry, but whatever the outcome, even a bad diagnosis isn't always that bad.

After a fairly recent hospitalization I know my heart is excellent, my brain scans showed no stroke or even tia's and I already know about my back so I guess my health is the last of my concerns. Except the memory issues. I just hope I hang on to care for my husband as his memory slips further than mine. So I will continue my deliberate ignorance. :-)

As far as test results, I would want to know and would be calling the office, but the important part as many have said is what works for you. I do not want to know ahead when or how I will die. I guess I like to believe it has not been decided yet :)

I have to amend my post. I did think of a reason that I would want to know when my death will occur. I am due for some very expensive dental work and if I knew that I would just be wasting my money by dying within a few months I would like to know that. I guess the same reason would apply e if a person were contemplating making an expensive luxury purchase.

I can totally relate. It is very hard to be "centered" or "present" (maybe you can tell that I've just come from yoga class) when the possibilities are so dire...I think that it is much easier to deal with a difficult reality than being in a state of limbo.

If it is any comfort, I remember one time when I was driving to get a second mammogram because the first one "showed something"...the thought popped into my head: "if this one is positive, I'm going to start smoking again". Try to find your humor and you will get through this! (And keep us posted)

I'd call and ask, that's me. Also for me, no news has been good news. I guess the question from me is will you feel better if you called? Or maybe you don't know. Sometimes my anxieties can make it hard to make choices.

I have a number of chronic health issues and see my MD more than I'd like. I have gotten the number of visits reduced both by asking, and just refusing to come in that often. I do what I need to be as well as possible at home and maintain a life outside home. I don't necessarily think the medical profession's advice overrules my own. I absolutely do not want to know the date of my death. Hugs to you Ronni.

No, I don't think I'd want to know the exact date of my demise unless, as Darlene notes, my husband or I were contemplating a pricey procedure or purchase. After all, why spend $thousand$ if we won't be around to reap any of the benefits thereof? A "range" could be useful since I'd be less concerned with conserving our remaining financial resources if I knew we didn't have to worry about the ridiculously high cost of long term care. (Example of "frivolous" expenditure: I might have the master bath remodeled with an updated, walk-in shower.) Since I've now reached 80, I may not need to be as concerned about LTC as I was at 65--or maybe I do, and therein lies the question.

I, too, fear becoming a "professional patient" and hope I have the good instincts and guts to deliver a resounding NO to the medical industrial complex when the time comes. It's been my experience that the doc usually notifies us right away if it's something "awful".

I sincerely hope that, whenever you do get the test results, all is well.

If I knew the date of my death, I'd know how soon I need to start cleaning up my mess of a house, and not waste time cleaning that would have to be done again.

If I knew the date of my death, I'd know whether to go ahead and buy a new car or just forgo that expenditure since I'd most likely not be taking any long trips--well other than the one on the date given me for my death--cause that will be the longest "trip" of all.

Ronni, I have just had a similar experience with a Dr. re: a CT scan. He got one done on me and has never gone over the information with me. I asked him, as he was going out the door saying, see you in 6 mos., if I could get a copy of the CT report. He had his nurse give me the copy. AND I have now dismissed him and gone to my PC to help me with the apparent changes that have taken place since I last had a CT—got a referral to a cardiologist, got an MRI for some clarity, and a referral to a new Hemo/Onco.

I don't mess with Drs. who do not communicate with me. I have gone through 4 PCs to find the one I have now who is great and not running on ego juice; and this will be my 2nd Hemo/Onco since the orginal one I had and loved had to retire.

Talk to me like

The only expiration date I'm concerned about is the one on my milk carton...

What Lauren and other posters said.

Make the call.

Also agree with Darlene.

I'd rather not know when I'll take my last breath.

That would discolour every beautiful moment.

Bruce, sorry to hear about your friend. I like your blog.

A close friend has breast cancer.

She has been getting chemo once a week, total 16 sessions. I go with her.

My 92 year old friend, ILR, has recently gone to the hospital 3 times by ambulance. I went with her. Suddenly I find myself in the emergency room, surrounded by ambulance technicians, my friend on a stretcher, patients, mostly seniors, lined up, nurses and doctors working like sled dogs.

Went to find a pillow for my friend, walked past a senior man who looked completely out of it. He was half out of his bed. Legs up. I got a full view of his doo dahs. Was thinking of something else when that sight jarred me into full get me out of here mode.

Stressful situation.

So far, I am in good health, but that makes me wonder. Is it luck, genetics, or am I heading in the same direction?

what a mean dilemma to face. We live alone except for a cat so no one to help with a discussion of pros and cons. Your online friends have definitely given good advice either way.

I'd opt for knowing. Not when I will die, but maybe why. I want to know everything so I can do what is necessary to clear clutter from my life, say goodbye to friends, make amends with family. Go to the ocean one more time. Check my bucket list for unfulfilled plans.

But I've seen enough mistakes in medical circles to know that no news usually means human error. Just forgot to push "send" or something.

I had an interesting talk today with a friend who is suffering from heart failure, at 97 years. She has decided to do nothing if there is another episode. But as a lifelong Christian she admits to being scared of dying.

I'm not. I'm not a Christian. I am too soft hearted to be Christian with all the judgment that accompanies modern Christianity. But death to me is just another phase of being. If I wake up dead and realize I am not waking up, so be it. If I wake up and find myself in a glorious realm of love and beauty, so be it. I'm not afraid. I would choose death over a nursing home.

It seems that a Christian should be unafraid, too. She is a very good person. Had a good life, contributed a lot. Probably did not hate very much (we all hate a little).

I'm with Gabbie Gifford. We need to be courageous. But within reason.

I'd call.

I'm not afraid of death - it comes to us all. Sometimes, I look forward to it - to leave this vale of tears.

Ronni - I share your fear of being caught up in the medical merry-go-round - but late last year decided to be proactive about my health - which is very good - visited my doctor for the full blood test baseline info - also a mammogram - which resulted in my having a mastectomy in January for invasive cancer. So now I feel trapped - the results of surgery were excellent - nothing in the lymph nodes all cancer removed - but now I am on hormone therapy apparently for the next 5 years "just in case" the cancer recurs. At 78 I honestly feel I should just take my chance rather than live with a variety of side effects - but of course partner and family feel I should take every precaution. So much for being pro-active - wish I had been like Marian's mother and just been grateful for the good health I had. By this time you will have rung up for the results I'm sure - so good luck with that!

I am living with the really scary thought that I will not live to see another president take office ! I am 87, in great health,and have learned that Donald Trump has filed campaign plans to run again for president in four years !

Oh no...........It used to be fun to wonder who will be the next president !

I would call for my results. But. But I don't know if knowing the time I was going to die would make much difference in my life. I have always been a procrastinator to the point where stuff never gets done, and I'm sure knowing my death day wouldn't make me suddenly organized and proactive. I still wouldn't have my house dusted, my many possessions sorted, nor my affairs in order.

Hmmm. No, like others I wouldn't want to know my expiration date. But I think I might want to know what it is that was going to get me, so I could let go of fears about all the OTHER things, ha ha.

I have some chronic things and over the summer had to have full general anesthesia (with intubation) three times over eight weeks, once for surgery and twice for other invasive procedures. All three times what struck me is that the anesthesia is like a light switch being turned off. You're there and then you fall asleep until - boom! - you're back again. I guess death is when you don't come back. (Of course, as an atheist I believe you never know you haven't returned.)

So death, no biggie. Dying, on the other hand....that one can be quick and clean or long , drawn out and messy. So, for me, not the when, but the how, so I could take whatever steps I can to mitigate the process.

Sending you good thoughts , Ronni, that your mind will soon be at ease.

I endured a similar agony. After 3 episodes of pneumonia in 18 months and persistent shadows in follow-up x-rays, my doctor recommended a CT scan. Like you, I have a history of decades of smoking and close relatives dying of cancer. I waited in agony for 2 weeks for the test date (in Canada, most medical procedures involve wait times!). After the scan, it took 10 days before a phone call telling me 'nothing to worry about' which was subsequently confirmed by a face to face visit with the physician. Nonetheless, most of the month of January was wasted in worries.
I hope for similar results for you!

Do I want to know when? Yes. With as much notice as possible. To be ready. To spend the time meaningfully (to me). And waste none of it on what would then be unimportant, or unnecessary, or on just what I don't want to do.

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