On being mortal, from a doctor’s perspective

I watched an interesting Frontline special about end-of-life issues, from the perspective of a doctor treating terminally ill patients. The show featured Dr. Atul Gawande, who wrote the book, “Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End.” The book came out last fall, but I have not had the chance to read it yet. Another one added to my wish list, so many good books, so little time to read them!

being mortal cvr

In the program, Dr. Gawande tracks other doctors and interviews them about their approach to end-of-life care. Because of some negative experiences, I sometimes unfairly assume that the typical doctor’s main goal is to prolong life for as long as possible, quality of life be damned. But this documentary highlights the emotional turmoil that doctors experience when they are forced to tell their patients that medically speaking, there is nothing else to be done and it is time to transition to palliative care. The doctors feel like they’ve failed their patients when they cannot heal them.

Some patients accept the bad news with peaceful resignation, others go into denial, and still others fight the good fight for too long. One of the saddest stories was of a young woman about to give birth who was told she had stage IV lung cancer. She gave birth with a collapsed lung and immediately began a harsh and toxic treatment regimen. Of course one can understand why, she had so much to live for! But her husband now regrets the time she spent so ill from the treatment, which did nothing to extend her life. He wishes they had spent more quality time together as a family.

While somber in nature, the program offered a variety of takes on how to approach end-of-life care. It’s worth checking out. I watched in on the PBS channel on Roku.


Filed under Memories

3 responses to “On being mortal, from a doctor’s perspective

  1. The only opposition comment I might add, and it’s not really an opposition, just a concern, is to make sure WE get to make our own decisions on end-of-life care. To me, if someone wants to fight to live, they should be able to decide to do that. There are cases when people actually go into remission. That woman who fought for her life wanted to fight, it wasn’t up to her husband. It was definitely difficult to go through, but if she was willing to do it, she should have the right.

    My mom has had cancer twice, in two different areas of her body, and she has made it through. She now suffers from COPD and wants to live to see her grandkids become adults. That is only another 10 years, and she should be able to decide that for herself if she wishes. I’m concerned, because the government is dipping their hands into our healthcare more and more. I fear that one day, they will force us to make decisions we aren’t ready to choose. My mom has almost bit the dust a few times, but she fought her way out. She is actually living a fairly quality life now (for her condition). If the government was involved, they may have forced her/us to just give up when things looked bad. Hopefully, her grandsons (my nephews), will have her around long enough to remember her always.

  2. I just found your blog and will be following. Thanks for writing about this difficult subject.

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