Are you ever amazed at ancient wisdom? Do you ever wonder about the value of new approaches and techniques? Sometimes I believe that progress isn’t progress.
Today I was reading http://wapo.st/1lCNAWD about when to stop cancer treatment. One paragraph in the article particularly caught my attention. The author writes that
“Patients and families often assume their doctors are trained and knowledgeable about end of life, and they assume that if the doctor recommends more tests and treatments, he or she thinks they will help in some way. Patients and families also assume that doctors will tell them when time is running out, what to expect and how best to navigate these unknown and frightening waters.”
I saw this very assumption played out in a nearby hospital only two weeks ago as a neighbor awaited surgery for her terminally ill sister. After two surgeries she died anyway. Doctors in the same hospital had proposed surgery for my father when he was non-responsive and had no hope of recovery. The difference was that I knew to say no to the surgery and to get my dad admitted to hospice where he died peacefully.
Alfred Worcester said as much in The Care of the Aged, the Dying, and the Dead published in 1935.
“Probably if not seldom would it be possible to obtain some apparent revival of life in bodies which if left undisturbed would never move. But all these modern methods of resuscitation, which of course are obligatory where valuable lives might thus be saved, are most decidedly out of place where by disease or accident the body’s usefulness has ended. Especially is this true where resuscitation would only renew the patient’s sufferings.”
Don’t be afraid to ask questions. If the doctor suggests an approach that you’re uncertain about, ask questions. What are the alternatives? What is the best outcome the doctor expects from the suggested approach, and how does that outcome compare with the best outcome the alternative might yield? What are the risks of each? Remember that just because something is possible doesn’t mean it’s best. Every patient needs an advocate, someone who will listen to the medical team, listen to the patient, thoughtfully consider all the information, and act on behalf of the patient. If you can’t be present to advocate for your elderly family members, considering hiring someone who can. Geriatric case managers and elder law attorneys can help connect you.