How Doctors Die
It’s Not Like the Rest of Us, But It Should Be
by Ken Murray
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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.
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I hope, that when we finally find out “the right answers” at the Final Judgement, my decisions about my wife’s end of life care will be the “correct” ones. The handwriting was on the wall when her kidney’s shut down. I asked her if she understood that meant? Her last words were “when will this all be over?” My tearful reply was “Soon, hon, real soon.” It was.
No pain. Peace.
Not for those left behind.
But the race had been run. And Death won.
As it always does.
My paperworks been updated because when my time comes as it does to all of us, I’m hoping for the “Good Death”.
Luckily, in my case, there’ll be no spouse left behind.
“And I’ve lost her … . I’m so sad that I don’t have … . But I’m so grateful that she was with me … . And I know what I have to do now. I gotta keep breathing. Because tomorrow the sun will rise. Who knows what the tide could bring?” — Chuck Noland ala Tom Hanks in Cast Away (2000) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0162222/quotes
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