Posted on Zocalo Public Square on 12/30/11
Brian’s Note: This article was alluded to in a NY Times blog post called “When Doctors Face Death.” In a clear and rational tone, the author, an experienced family physician, points out that, when American physicians face death, they often don’t want the excessive care that their patients generally receive. As I understand it, the article, part of a series for Zocalo Public Square, has gained tremendous traction. Rightly so. Read it below.
Years ago, Charlie, a highly respected orthopedist and a mentor of mine, found a lump in his stomach. He had a surgeon explore the area, and the diagnosis was pancreatic cancer. This surgeon was one of the best in the country. He had even invented a new procedure for this exact cancer that could triple a patient’s five-year-survival odds—from 5 percent to 15 percent—albeit with a poor quality of life. Charlie was uninterested. He went home the next day, closed his practice, and never set foot in a hospital again. He focused on spending time with family and feeling as good as possible. Several months later, he died at home. He got no chemotherapy, radiation, or surgical treatment. Medicare didn’t spend much on him.