To follow-up on the Oliver Sacks post —
— several days ago, this notice appeared on my facebook page, from a local friend. Of course I signed up to go.
It’s Not Like the Rest of Us, But It Should Be
November 30, 2011
by Ken Murray
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.
It’s not a frequent topic of discussion, but doctors die, too. And they don’t die like the rest of us. What’s unusual about them is not how much treatment they get compared to most Americans, but how little. For all the time they spend fending off the deaths of others, they tend to be fairly serene when faced with death themselves. They know exactly what is going to happen, they know the choices, and they generally have access to any sort of medical care they could want. But they go gently.
By the way, my own Dad, a doctor, did NOT go gently. We all expected that he would go gently, since he had been philosophical about death for decades; but during the last few weeks, at 96, and with only 5% kidney function, he said he wanted dialysis, because he was “going to beat this thing!” We (his adult children) were stunned. And had to convince him to let it go — and to let go.
So, you never know! Now we think his determination to live was related to his need to take care of Mom, who lived for two more years. I think he would be (hell, he is!) proud of how we rose to the occasion and cared for her until her very gentle completion.