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Introductive Case Study. «My Health is Excellent but I’m Dying»

Kate de Meideros
p. 9-10

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1Ruth was 89-years old when I interviewed her as part of a larger study on the meaning of suffering in old age. She lived alone in the back apartment of a two-unit house; her daughter and daughter’s family (a husband and three grown children) lived in the front unit. Ruth’s apartment consisted of a small kitchen, living room area, private bath and a bedroom which also housed an oxygen unit to which she was tethered by a thin plastic tube long enough to give her access to the entire apartment. Her main living area had only a desk which faced the front door, two wooden chairs across from the desk, a reclining chair in a distant corner, and four or five small end tables stacked with books and papers.

2Ruth told me she was a devout Catholic and kept several Bibles and books about saints’ lives stacked next to her. On top sat a thin bound edition of the Book of Revelations. I interviewed Ruth twice, each time sitting across from her at the desk.

3 In my first question, I asked her overall health. Her response surprised me: “My health is excellent. But I’m in the dying stages”. When I asked what she meant, she explained that since she did not know when exactly when she would die, her health could be nothing other than excellent since she was still alive.

4 When we talked further about her health conditions, I asked if her health got in the way of doing things she wanted to do. She answered:

I would say a great deal because if it wasn’t for my health, I wouldn’t be sitting here. Now with my, with the angina. It’s awful. I had an edema attack. I must have gained about 200 pounds. In 40 hours, they removed 8 bags of fluid from me. That’s how full I was. And then they brought me home. They brought me home to die.

5She then told me about an incident 5 years ago when she was certain she would die that night. She put in her dentures, since she knew her daughter, a nurse, didn’t like doing so for dead people. She said she often had nights like that.

6For Ruth, “successful aging” was linked to two things: being alive and having something meaningful in life. For example, despite being confined to her apartment, she spent her day either ironing for her daughter’s family, something which she said young people didn’t know how to do anymore, or reading religious books. Perhaps more importantly, because of her deep belief system, she felt there was important meaning in and use for her experience of suffering due to her health. She said:

Well, I don’t mind suffering. I just offer it up to the holy souls. And I thank the dear Lord for the people I know and I just offer it up for the benefit of their souls. You can transfer it to the holy souls.

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Kate de Meideros, « Introductive Case Study. «My Health is Excellent but I’m Dying» », Recherches sociologiques et anthropologiques, 44-1 | 2013, 9-10.

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Kate de Meideros, « Introductive Case Study. «My Health is Excellent but I’m Dying» », Recherches sociologiques et anthropologiques [En ligne], 44-1 | 2013, mis en ligne le 20 septembre 2013, consulté le 23 mars 2017. URL : http://rsa.revues.org/902 ; DOI : 10.4000/rsa.902

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Auteur

Kate de Meideros

Assistant Professor of Gerontology, Department of Sociology and Gerontology, Miami University

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Les contenus de la revue Recherches sociologiques et anthropologiques sont disponibles selon les termes de la Licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d’Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

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