Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Does Anyone Want to Die in a Hospital?

Lyrics to a new(ish) Conor Oberst song "I don't want to die (in the hospital)"

I don't want to die in the hospital
I don't want to die in the hospital
I don't want to die in the hospital
You gotta take me back outside

I don't want to hear all these factory sounds
Looking like a girl in a sleeping gown
I don't want to die in the hospital
You gotta take me back outside

Can you make a sound to distract the nurse
Before I take a ride in the long black hearse
I don't want to die in the hospital
You gotta take me back outside

Help me get my boots on
Help me get my boots on
Help me get my boots back on
Help me get my boots on
Help me get my boots on
Help me get my boots back on
I gotta go, go, go
Cause I don't have long

I don't give a damn what the doctors say
I ain't gonna spend another lonesome day
I don't want to die in the hospital
You gotta take me back outside

And they don't let you smoke and you can't get drunk
All there is to watch are these soap operas
I don't want to die in the hospital
You gotta take me back outside

Can you get this tube out of my arm
Morphine in my blood like a slow sad song
I don't want to die in the hospital
You gotta take me back outside

Help me get my boots on
Help me get my boots on
Help me get my boots back on
Help me get my boots on
Help me get my boots on
Help me get my boots back on
I gotta go, go, go
Cause I don't have long

Is there still a world out my windowsill
All there ever was I remember still
I don't want to die in this hospital
You gotta take me back outside

Don't know when it's day or when it's night
All I ever see are fluorescent lights
I don't want to die in this hospital
You gotta take me back outside

They give me all these flowers and these big balloons
But I don't wanna stay in this little room
I don't want to die in this hospital
I don't want to die

Are the stars still in the sky?
Is that fat moon on the rise?
Feel the earth against my feet
As the cold wind calls for me

I don't want to die in this hospital
I don't want to die in this hospital
No I ain't gonna die in this hospital
You gonna take me back outside

Yeah I ain't gonna die in this hospital
No I ain't gonna die in this hospital
No I ain't gonna die in this hospital
You gonna take me back outside

The Omaha, NE, singer/songwriter has frequently returned to the subject of death and mortality in his music, but in this particular song, he hits on a theme that will resonate for many in our modern world. When asked how they want to die, I would guess, most people would say things like—surrounded by friends and family, in their own bed, comfortable, at home, with a view of trees, etc.

Some may genuinely prefer the security of knowing they are surrounded by medical professionals, in a sterile environment, to the end ... but according to some research, more than half of patients with life-limiting, chronic illness die in hospitals, even though up to 70% of Americans express a wish to die at home. (This from a study done at Sewanee: the University of the South.)

This disconnect is startling and sad. And as much as some folks find Oberst petulant and arrogant, I like his emotionally charged, heavily vibrato style. And for me, this song says something eloquent and beautiful about a problem many of us will face and more of us should be going into with our eyes open.

2 comments:

Shai Frog Llama Grapefruit said...

all my mother wanted, near the end, was to die at home or at the beach with my dad. she should have. i wish we all would have just made that happen. the last time i took her, we didnt know. she wouldnt leave a hospital again until she died. id ont mind the promises i broke to her in my life, but not taking her hom, some how, that one is too much to think about.

Jessica Knapp said...

Your comment makes me sad in my bones. But you were still young when your mother died, don't be too hard on yourself.

Maybe there's a metaphoric or symbolic way you could take her to the beach to rest. After all, you are a poet; you'd be good at that.

My grandfather died in the hospital, but in his case, I think it was unavoidable. He had a fall, and that spiraled into a series of system failures. But months after his death, we buried a little figurine, one that had made him laugh when he was alive, in Hawaii—the last place he had visited with his whole family, and the last place he had been completely happy.

Might not work for you ... just a thought.