I received an urgent phone call from an old friend, X. He's the widower of a woman I used to work with. I was always fond of their family and often visited X at his assisted living facility, and at the hospital when his COPD gave way to pneumonia.
On the phone, X asked if I could pick up something for him from the store. Sure, I was always happy to help. What did he want?
"I want a 12-pack of beer."
"Uhhhh....Are you sure it's OK for you to have beer? What about that thickener you have to add to all your beverages?"
"Oh- didn't I tell you? The doctor said that carbonated beverages are fine for me now."
"Did the doctor say the word 'beer'?"
"Yes, it's FINE!!!"
This is where the conflict started to set in. X's family thinks he's an alcoholic. When he first became ill a year ago and had to be taken to the hospital, he nearly died. I was told by the family that it was the alcohol which had brought him to such a physical state.
I knew that the family would not want X to have alcohol. I guess I am obligated to honor the family's wishes, not X's wishes. When an older adult reaches a state of health which requires long-term care, it appears that the person loses control of his life. The younger family member who has been given Power of Attorney is the one who takes over control of the older person's life.
X, mind you, is mentally sharp as a tack, and at age 74, is not exactly ancient. He has his own room in the assisted living facility. Three meals a day are served in the dining room, which is a huge benefit for this widower who doesn't know his way around the kitchen. I'm not sure why, but he doesn't seem to be allowed to drive.
His family, along with the pastor of his church, seem utterly convinced that X should not be allowed to have alcohol. If obesity was X's problem, would they be limiting his food, I wonder? If lack of exercise was X's problem, would they have him on a strict daily exercise regimen? Is it really right for human beings to control other human beings when they reach a certain age or level of vulnerability?
Would I want a family member controlling me if I were in X's situation? Hell, no! If I'm dying of some chronic condition and some doctor says I can't have ice cream, I hope my son will bring me the ice cream anyway- I've already told him that. Even if my ice cream intake is viewed as suicidal, bring it on. Whose business is it besides my own?
If X's intake of beer is viewed as suicidal by his controllers, well, so what? Each decision we make day in and day out is either life-giving (like exercising) or life-threatening (like drinking Coke). X's life choices are none of my business (and none of his family's business).
So I decided to deliver the beer to X. In the grocery store, as luck would have it, I ran into a friend. I was embarrassed about the tarnishing of my goody-two-shoes image as I struggled with the large, unwieldy package of beer at the checkout. Still unsure of my decision, I felt obligated to explain myself.
"Well, Betty, the assisted living facility is responsible if anything happens to X. You really should ask them if the beer's OK. You don't want to end up in trouble if something happens..."
Oh, boy. X's simple request was rapidly turning into a complex dilemma. But I had purchased the beer and was on my way to the assisted living place.
Imagine my surprise when the gentleman exiting as I entered the facility happened to be X's pastor, whom I recognised from a prior encounter! I tripped over the threshold, causing the beer box to rip its way out of its paper bag. His eyes bulged as he offered help and then started to recognise me. He gasped audibly.
"Ohhhh....so YOU'RE the 'important meeting' that X had to get rid of me for......Are you taking BEER to him?????"
Feigning ignorance, I looked at him with confusion. "Is he not supposed to have it? He assured me it was allowed...."
The all-knowing pastor shook his head. "He's tried to get me to bring booze, he's tried his family, now you.....he's alcoholic, and he lies to get the stuff. Go ask the staff here about it."
Feeling like a criminal, I looked around in the building for some authority figure to consult with, just because I'd been exposed and now felt that I needed their permission (if I could miraculously obtain it).
Finally I ran into an elderly resident doing her laps around the hallways. I asked her if anybody worked here on Saturday. She took me into the kitchen. I felt hopeful at the sight of these rather laid-back kitchen workers, and in fact the first one who answered my question said that residents are allowed to have beer in their fridges.
Then another one said, "Well, we'd better call the family to make sure there's no issue we don't know about..."
Well, the phone call didn't go well. X's daughter-in-law laid down the law- no booze for X. He might die from it, after all. And in the society we live in, I suppose I could be held resonsible for his death if it happened to occur after he enjoyed a cold one.
Well, I have to play by other people's rules in this case, but let it be known that my motto is this:
LIVE AND LET LIVE.