My mother-in-law, Helen, just celebrated her 86th birthday! She is the last of our parents, John’s and mine, and we feel lucky to have her around. For her age she’s doing quite well. She still lives independently and does pretty well with some help from us and even more from John’s sister who lives much closer.
As she ages, naturally she has more health issues. But she is very independent and doesn’t want any of us along when she goes to the doctor. It won’t be long before we start insisting though, because whenever she goes for a checkup or for a problem, we end up completely confused and can’t help because, well, she likes to keep things private.
In the last year, though, she’s had a few procedures that, while not too terribly invasive, still seemed over the top. Unnecessary. Expensive, but covered by Medicare and Medi-gap insurance.
Now remember, I am a bit of a cheerleader for doctors. I have wonderful ones and they have improved my life immensely. I work with doctors, I have friends who are doctors. I am really familiar with the system and how things work.
So I have to say that I was taken aback when I read a recent article in the Wall Street Journal:
The article was written by Ken Murray. DoctorKen Murray. Naturally as an all-too frequent patient/medical geek, I was intrigued. The gist of the article is summed up by this quote:
What’s unusual about doctors is not how much treatment they get compared with most Americans, but how little. They know exactly what is going to happen, they know the choices, and they generally have access to any sort of medical care that they could want. But they tend to go serenely and gently.
No tubes. No chemotherapy. No machines. Gently and serenely. Well, whodda thunk it?
I know for a fact that doesn’t happen in the hospital. They know for a fact that doesn’t happen in a hospital. If it did, medical costs would not be so, well, costly. You’ve read the stats, so I won’t go there. You’re welcome.
My sister Beth, who was a nurse, had suffered a stroke that, among other things, led to acute kidney failure requiring years of dialysis. Beth had been having problems for a couple of months when she suddenly took a severe turn for the worse, and she was in terrible pain. Her sons were unable to help her and took her, against her will, to the hospital, where she lapsed into a coma. But not before she was placed on all kinds of machines, respirators, monitors, dialysis machines, the works. But she had really already gone. None of that expensive equipment was really necessary. None of it changed the outcome. Only the drugs made her more comfortable.
Selfishly, part of me is glad they put her on those machines, because it gave me enough time to get to her bedside and be there at the end. She would have been glad to know I was there, but not glad of the expensive and hopeless treatment she received. That is not at all what she would have wanted. Would you?
So when I read this article I realized it was time to add an important question to the list I ask all doctors whenever I go, or whenever I go with someone I am trying to help:
“Hey, Doc? What would you do if you were the patient?”