Dad was pretty emphatic. “You need to read this story in Time Magazine. It’s really interesting,” he said, pointing to the cover of the June 12, 2012 issue. “And after you’re done, I’ve promised to take it to the nurse practitioner who works with my doctor.” The story, “How to Die: What I Learned from the Last Days of My Mom and Dad,” tracks the final five months of Joe Klein’s parents’ lives.
So what caught Dad’s attention? He listed two major themes:
1. The changes in Klein’s parents in the latter stages of life.
I think Dad related to this story since he watched his own wife change so dramatically due to Alzheimer’s disease. In the Time story, Klein wrote that his mother, who had dementia and been blind for several years, “seemed to be living on a different prohibitively weird planet populated by angels, murderers and secret paramours.” But Klein wondered whether that made her a “vegetable,” something she had sworn when she was younger that she never wanted to be. Klein’s father, also blind, had dementia and became prone to fits of rage as the brain disease took its toll.
2. The doctors’ straight-forward, team-based approach.
Klein’s parents received care through the Geisinger health care system. In this system, doctors are paid salaries and outcomes-based performance bonuses (as opposed to being paid by the services they perform). The system also takes a team approach in which doctors cooperate on patient care.
“It is a system that many health care experts see as a model, a way to save significant amounts of money while providing better care,” Klein writes. “I can’t personally attest to the savings… but I can say the level of candor, sanity and humanity of the Geisinger doctors I dealt with was stunningly high. They helped me through some of the toughest decisions I’ve ever had to make.”
Dad was impressed with the honest and forthright conversations that the doctors had with the Klein family. For instance, Klein tried to explain his decision to have a feeding tube put in his mother when she stopped eating while he was traveling. Klein told the doctor that he was hoping that his mother’s appetite would return. The Geisinger doctor, who said he’d monitor the situation, kindly but firmly told Klein, “When they lose their appetites, they’re usually telling us something.” When her appetite didn’t return, the doctors advised Klein that she wasn’t responding and that the team was only prolonging her inevitable death. They also shared that his mother’s death would not be painful. That made it easier for Klein to make the appropriate decision.
Next week I’ll share my takeaways from this story.Posted in Caregiving, Death | 1 Comment »
Tags: Caregiving, Death