Monday, April 19, 2010

Adult Failure To Thrive

I have a habit of reading the obituaries of little-known-but-wildly-successful people. Every single one is alike a mini-movie as you picture the expanse of the person's life neatly summed up by two or three inches in a newspaper.

The other day I read the obit of H. Guyford Stever who led the rocket redesigns after the Challenger disaster. His life was amazing but his death puzzled me. Stever was 93 and died of "adult failure to thrive", an actual medical term with a dramatic, maudlin tone.

Stretched out on my blanket in the park, I made my iPhone look it up immediately:

"In elderly patients, failure to thrive describes a state of decline that is multi-factorial and may be caused by chronic concurrent diseases and functional impairments. Manifestations of this condition include weight loss, decreased appetite, poor nutrition, and inactivity."

What struck me about this was how generic this type of death is, especially in a culture where we demand detailed explanations for things as unwelcome as death. Essentially, this phrase is the more official version of "He just died from old age." Evidently, this isn't a term you can list in one's obit so they came up with this "failure to thrive" business.

Still, I feel like there's an important philosophy embedded in this phrase, or at the very least a solid alt-country song. Take heed: Failure to thrive results in death.


Mrs. X said...

That reminds me of a guy I read about who died of gout. Seriously? Gout? It's not fatal!

I think 'adult failure to thrive' is just some catch all thing to use when the usual diagnosis can't be found. Me, I would prefer 'old age' as the cause of death.

ClizBiz said...

Agreed. Why sugarcoat it? I just don't want my death to be stupid, like "death by inhaling too many Cheetos at once" or whatever.

"Blaze of gunfire" might be nice - at least it wouldn't be dull.

Heidi's heart said...

I am sure that is what killed my mother. She just gave up. She'd had enough. She didn't want to leave her bed, much less her room. She didn't want to eat, even chocolates, which she usually craved. Failure to thrive.