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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 6/9/09

Dying for Change

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Message Stephen Pizzo
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Over the past few months my wife, Susan, and I have been right up to our chins in elder-care issues. My father is 90, my mother is 87 and Sue's mom is 99 heading straight for the century mark.

We're not complaining, mind you. We are so lucky that, at our stage of life, (we're no spring chickens either,) that we still have three out of four of them still with us.

But it's also been a real eye-opener.

We can't complain. Thanks to the fact that both parents were successful and thrifty during their productive years, they have the money necessary for good supplemental health coverage and can pay out of pocket for in-home care. But even so, the intersection of old age and the American health care system has been enough to drive the most loving and loyal offspring straight into anti-depressant-land. To put it mildly, the American health care system is simply not geezer-friendly.

With all we've been through with our parents over the last couple of years, from broken hips, to abdominal surgeries to mobility issues to trying to find qualified and trustworthy home-care workers, I have no clue how families that do not have our resources cope. Even at our modest, but comfortable level of financial security, the whole thing has been emotionally and physically exhausting. For those without adequate health coverage, and just making ends meet or less, old age can only be a terrifying glimpse into the bowels of hell itself.

Now, I, at a mere 64 years of age, have a ways to go before I get unceremoniously tossed into the ranks of Metamucil-For-Lunch-Bunch. But we're heading in that direction at what seems and increasing rate of speed. But Sue and I are merely 2 of the 80-million Baby Boomers trucking down that road. And America is simply not ready for what's about to slap it upside the head.

We Baby Boomers are, regrettably yet proudly, the most spoiled and demanding generation to ever cast a shadow on this planet. We grew up during a time of post-war super-abundance. We have become accustomed to near-instant results. And that goes triple for when we're ailing. If we wear out a part we expect a doctor to fix it no later than 3 p.m the next day. If they can't, we start taking names.

So, can you even begin to imagine what it will be like when 80- or 90-year old Boomers begin hobbling into emergency rooms across the nation, demanding someone fix their crumbling basketball-abused knees, tennis elbows and golf-wrists? Then there are the usual parts that wear out naturally; eyeballs, vertebrae, prostates and the ever critical sewage disposal sub-systems.

Aside from that there will also be mushrooming mobility issues. Boomers are used to freedom of travel, freedom of movement. Twenty years from now there'll be 80 million (grouchy) codgers jockeying for room on our sidewalks and grocery store isles in their red and blue electric scooter-chairs -- the bumper-car generation from hell.

Dark humor aside, America and Baby Boomers are on a collision course. America's elder care infrastructure sucks. The only thing that has prevented a bloody geriatric revolt so far is that our parent's went through the Great Depression and fought and won a world war. Consequently their expectations still reflect the "Life is hard. Don't whine. Just-suck-it-up," grit that not only got them through all that, but in the process contributed to creating the richest most powerful nation on earth. But, in the process they also raised a generation that has come to consider abundance and quick results a birthright. And, as we Boomers age, we will also consider dignified end-of-life care a right as well. (Call it a death-right.)

I only mention all this because it's on my mind these days. As I watch our parents struggle to maintain the independence and dignity that has been the hallmark of their lives, I know one thing for sure: something has to change, and soon.

Because, what good is a nation that can spend trillions on weapons to "keep us free," if being free means that at the end of our lives we have less rights and less dignity than a terminally ill family pet.

We won't stand for it.

Call us selfish. Call us spoiled. We have surely been both. But we are also the generation that marched and fought in the streets to put an end to segregation. We are the same generation that marched in and fought in the streets to put an end to an illegal and immoral war in Vietnam.

So, spoiled and selfish, yes -- but also imbued with deep and enduring sense of right and wrong, justice and human dignity. And no where is justice and human dignity more deserved than after a long life of work and family and community. As the Obama administration and Congress struggle with fixing the American health care system, elder care and end of life care needs special attention.

Otherwise, who knows, we Boomers might have to hit the streets again. And, I don't know about you, but the idea of tens of thousands of aging former hippies and radicals marching, polyester pants bulging with adult diapers, dragging IV rigs and oxygen bottles chanting, "Hell no, we won't go," is more than I can bear.

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Stephen Pizzo has been published everywhere from The New York Times to Mother Jones magazine. His book, Inside Job: The Looting of America's Savings and Loans, was nominated for a Pulitzer.

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