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Someday, we will all be needing a death basket

Have you heard the story about American Indian death baskets? I heard it several years ago on the radio. I don’t know who wrote it, nor if it’s true. I’ve forgotten many details, but here’s my version:

Once there was an Indian tribe that was exceedingly skilled at weaving baskets. By the time each male member of the tribe reached middle-age, he owned a special, large basket. It was woven for him by his eldest son.

That basket was never used until the man grew too old to hunt and to keep up on the trail. His eldest son then filled the basket with corn, smoked venison and other provisions. Then when the tribe moved on, the old man and his basket were left behind under a tree.

One son, who had just left his father behind, noticed his own son busily weaving something. He asked his young son what he was making. The young man said, “Your basket.”

I remembered that story last Saturday while reading David Brooks’ column in The Tribune. The column’s headline was “Looking at life, death and budgets.” Brooks said America’s present fiscal crisis “is driven largely by health care costs.”

He said one thing that caused this crisis “is our inability to face death —our willingness to spend our nation into bankruptcy to extend life for a few more sickly months.” (Do I smell death panels there?)

Brooks quoted several experts. Two of them said Americans spent $91 billion in 2005 on Alzhei-mer’s patients, and will spend $189 billion in 2015 and $1 trillion in 2050. “Obviously,” Brooks said, “we are never going to cut off Alzheimer’s patients and leave them out on a hillside.” (What, no baskets?)

So what should we really do with Alzheimer’s patients and other ill elderly people? Brooks didn’t go into specifics. But some state officials have taken specific steps. I read an article about them in Sunday’s Tribune. The headline said, “Senior care services facing cuts.” The sub-headline said, “Three out of four states have scaled back day programs and home care in recent years.”

That’s shortsighted. My wife, Mamie, suffered a broken hip last month. She was released from the convalescent hospital last week. She’s now receiving Medicare home health care. It seems obvious that partnering with families to treat family members at home has got to be cheaper than treating them in nursing homes.

I wonder how many of our politicians realize that they, too, will someday qualify for a death basket.

Reach Phil Dirkx at or 238-2372.