“Actor Nielsen dies from pneumonia”. This is the headline appearing on the AP report in the November 30 issue of the Rutland Herald. I am unaware of the practice of assigning a headline to articles, but I have to say that I really like this one. Why? Because it brings to mind an old saying from the days before antibiotics were widely available. In those days, before medicalization was applied to each and every little symptom we humans could experience; pneumonia was considered “the old person’s friend”. Now, I have no idea of the circumstances of Mr. Nielsen’s passing. I am not aware of how long he may have been hospitalized prior to his death, or if he had been suffering with one or more chronic illnesses, or if his pneumonia was acquired in the hospital, or if he was functioning well with little assistance from others prior to this hospitalization, or if he was suffering from some form of dementia that caused his thinking to be compromised. But I do know that there was a time when the prevailing thinking was that death by pneumonia was a positive occurrence for an elderly person. It was an illness that would strike those whose health was already vastly compromised by a diminished desire for food and drink, the loss of independent mobility, or the much less than optimal functioning of major organs like the heart and lungs and kidneys. With death occurring in a relatively short time – days but rarely weeks – pneumonia was viewed as a deliverance from the burden of advanced old age when quality of life was in short supply. Today there are still those who believe that pneumonia is the old person’s friend for all those reasons already stated. They see pneumonia as the means to their end; an opportunity for deliverance from a life that has been robbed of those things that used to give pleasure. They know that there are things worse than death.