August 19, 2009
The Real Death Panels

Those poor, ignorant, deluded dupes at the town hall meetings almost got it right. But death panels arenít just on the way; theyíre already here.

One of them is named Colin McEnroe, whose talk show used to be the only bright spot on your dial if you were tuned to WTIC in Hartford. But he was, as you will see from his blog posting below, afflicted with empathy. And so he was fired, and now itís wall-to-wall Limbaugh wannabes. (Speaking of walls and Limbaugh wannabes, you used to see this message a lot in public toilets: A manís ambition must be small, To write his name on a shithouse wall.)

I got my mother back to the nursing home. A few weeks later, she contracted another devastating infection. I met her in the hallway of a different hospital, lying on a gurney in a very backed-up warren of emegency rooms. She had severe diarrhea, and the whole situation was an icky, messy nightmare, and the hospital had nowhere to put her, and we were stuck in a hallway, and none of the doctors who were making the big decisions ó not her primary care guy or her neurosurgeon ó were going to be anywhere near this 2 a.m. ordeal.

No too long after that, I became my motherís death panel. I had found a lovely, quiet room for her in the nursing home. I got flowers for it every day. I had Maggie working with me to make her comortable. I forged alliances with the other nurses too, and then I brought hospice in, over the objections of my motherís primary care doctor, an old-time guy who just didnít see things this way.

She had almost stopped eating. Her neck was not healing. Her Alzheimerís was exacerbated by all the stress. The infections were coming at her fast and furious. She didnít have an acute fatal condition. She had a bunch of non-fatal conditions that had collected around her in sort of a whirlpool, pulling her down.

I, ďthis Jack, joke, poor potsherdĒ was what was left on this earth to love her and fight for her. And all we ever did, from that day forward was try to make her comfortable and happy. We didnít do any more tests, because we knew she was dying and hurting. We actually saved you taxpayers a lot of money, not that I gave a damn. I just wanted to do the right thing, and this felt so right.

She died September 11. Her last days were much better than the ones that preceded my decision to be her death panel.

There is no death panel in the 2009 health care bill.Thatís just a made-up thing.

But if there were death panels, they would not be taking the place of some really good system we have right now that provides perfectly targeted care to patients who need it and can benefit from it. The truths of life and death are so much more complicated and rich than any healthcare debate can make them seem. In the case of my mother, you could almost say that she received bad health care until I decided it was OK for her to die.


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at August 19, 2009 01:59 PM
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My mother passed some years ago from bad health care resulting in colon cancer and then general surgical sorriness and misinformation provided by her surgeon. She had bad health care nearly to the end and had the money to afford the worst the health care industry had to throw at it. It resulted in a very sorry quality of life and the medical community around her would have been happy to make her life completely miserable with treatments that had no likelihood of success to the very end, except she finally said, enough and like you decided it was OK to die from the beginning and refused any further treatments. Hospice made the transition as painless as possible and were wonderful.

Another relative who had spent a career in nursing received the same diagnosis not long after Mother passed. She decided it was OK to die also and said no to all the treatments and she passed very quickly and spared herself some years of pure unadulterated misery, but she was knowledgeable in the field and had seen the whole process many times. She didn't need counseling, but my mother could have used it. The medical community, as it exists now, is generally unwilling to confront death as an acceptable an inescapable outcome, preferring to put one through considerable misery on what appears to me to be some religious principle they subscribe to. There are exceptions to this, I'm sure, I just have not found them around here. Basically what I'm saying is that end of life counseling is not a bad thing and it's not something most of us ever get prepared for by education or any other means. It's just not talked about, now it's being turned into a scare thing rather than the valuable service it really is.

Posted by: knowdoubt on August 19, 2009 4:06 PM

It seems like a lot of these people who are screaming about the "death panels" are also the fundamentalist Christians. Aren't they the ones who are going to heaven? Why are they fighting it so hard?

Posted by: Lenora on August 20, 2009 5:35 PM
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