I have been thinking a lot about sustainability lately, mostly because I have been confronted with a few situations that were absolutely unsustainable. The most dramatic was my mother's illness. Terminal illness is by its very nature unsustainable: the "terminal" part means that it's going to kill you, sooner or later, more or less painfully. Mom's illness required a lot of arrangements and accommodations that we could not sustain indefinitely, but we figured we could keep them going long enough. Turns out we didn't have to sustain a lot of them....
I confess to being freaked out at the massive resources devoted to end-of-life care. I don't know what to do about it, but I think something has to be done. When my mom died, the cupboard was full of different medications, some of them still in sealed packages that had never been opened. What do you do with such things? We hoped we'd be able to return them to the pharmacy, not even for a refund (even though some of them cost thousands of dollars a month), but just so they wouldn't get dumped down the toilet and end up in our water supply.
And then there are all the resources devoted to conventional burial.... You embalm someone, and then you put them in a casket, and then you put the casket in a vault, so that the embalming fluid won't leak and so that the the ground over the grave won't settle and make the cemetery lawn hard to mow. What? Really? I have long said that I don't want to be embalmed, but I don't especially want to be cremated, either. I want to be tree food. I want to be wrapped in an old cotton sheet and buried in a deep hole so I can be recycled. Turns out that I am not the only person who feels this way and that there is a natural burial movement. But it's definitely not the norm.
The thing is, it's not just our system of providing healthcare in this country that's entirely unsustainable, the whole for-profit insurance thing, so that you can't get insurance if you have a "pre-existing condition," or the way WellPoint routinely canceled the insurance of women diagnosed with breast cancer (there was a story about this on Reuters, but the link is broken). It's our way of running hospitals, with no recycling in the cafeterias and inaccessible stairs you aren't really supposed to use. It's the way we focus on treatment of illness rather than prevention.
OK, some diseases are pretty damn hard to prevent. My mother died of cirrhosis of the liver brought on not by alcoholism but by Crohn's disease--two very ugly, ugly illnesses--and I don't know how they could have been prevented. A friend's father has recently been diagnosed with ALS, aka amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, aka Lou Gehrig's disease. It's hard to prevent a disease the origins of which no one entirely understands. But heart disease? Diabetes? Lung cancer? These are, in many cases, preventable illnesses, if we'd eat right, exercise, and not smoke.
I don't know. I have no idea how to solve the overall problems. But I do know that I am going to start now to do what I can to see that I die a more sustainable death.