Where there's a will
Sunday, January 6, 2019
The nurse asked me if I had a living will. "Yes, I do," I said.
"Did you bring it with you?"
"No, I didn't."
"Well, I'm only here to have my teeth cleaned. I didn't really think I'd need it." I could see how important that would be if I was having a filling, or a wisdom tooth pulled, but a cleaning? Was it really that life-threatening? Maybe I should be looking for a new dentist.
There was much consternation behind the counter. Could they proceed with the cleaning without the living will? Do I really look that old? Or is it like that annoying teenager who always gives me the senior discount down at the Shop and Spend every Tuesday? I want to tell her she's just given me a 15 percent discount for being prematurely gray. But I just shut up and take it.
I can't even remember what it says in my living will. I don't want to be in constant pain. I don't want to linger. I don't want to be in a coma. But I would like Netflix. And one of those Alexa thingies. Did I remember to put that in there? Is it too late to change it? What happens if I want to linger for, like, a week?
I have a friend who keeps her will on the refrigerator door and changes it about once a week, depending on who has disappointed her in the past seven days. There are so many notes scribbled on it that I doubt if it's a legal document anymore.
And where did I put it? Where do you put something like that? In the home office? In the glove compartment? On the nightstand? I can't find the phone bill in my home office. I don't need a living will; I need a living filing clerk.
I do remember meeting with my lawyer and drawing up the papers. He said, "You should have a living will so that if you become incapacitated, your wishes will be carried out."
"My main wish is that I shouldn't become incapacitated."
"Do you have a health care proxy?"
"Of course not. I'm married. Besides, at my age ..."
"Proxy. Not doxy, you pathetic old goat. Turn up the hearing aid, would you? Do you have a will?"
"I don't think I need one. Everything's held jointly."
"Yeah, but what if you both die in a plane crash? Where's your money go then?"
"You're just trying to cheer me up, aren't you?"
"Say you both die in a nursing home fire? Who gets your estate then? I hear about this kind of stuff all the time. If some of my clients only knew what happened to their estates after they died, they would be turning over in their graves."
"Have you ever thought of becoming a motivational speaker?"
"Let's talk about your living will. For example, let's say you're completely conscious, but you can't move a muscle. Would you want them to take extraordinary means to keep you alive?"
"No, I'd want them to take extraordinary means to make me move."
"Sorry, that's not on the form. Let's say someone has to cook all your food, constantly clean up behind you, run all the errands and do all the chores while you sit in bed all day and watch television because you can't do the simplest things by yourself. Would you want them to take extraordinary means to keep you alive?
"I'm married. That's the way I live now. I want them to take extraordinary means to keep Sue alive."
"I just did her living will. She said she wanted you to die first, but she didn't want to spend her golden years in the clink."
"She's thoughtful that way."
"That's one way of putting it."
Jim Mullen is the author of It Takes a Village Idiot: A Memoir of Life After the City. His column, The Village Idiot, takes a look at the curiosities of American life.