When my grandma had a massive heart attack, her children got together and made some decisions about what to do. Until that point, my grandma was a physically active, independent, strong-willed lady. She was cleaning her own rain gutters well into her 70's. Two out of three children thought it was time to let her go. She'd had a rich, full life and wouldn't have wanted to become dependent on anyone or live in a home. One sibling pressed for treatment.
It was decided. My grandma had quadruple bypass surgery at 80 years old. The expected complications ensued. Cognitive impairment from the anesthesia and bypass machine and pneumonia from lying in bed too long. She was finally released only to fall and break her hip shortly after. Another lengthy hospital stay. She never lived in her home again. She was moved around to different assisted living facilities for the rest of her life.
With unrealistic expectations of our ability to prolong life, with death as an unfamiliar and unnatural event, and without a realistic, tactile sense of how much a worn-out elderly patient is suffering, it’s easy for patients and families to keep insisting on more tests, more medications, more procedures.
Dr. Craig Bowren gets to the core of this issue- patient suffering. What good is a long life if it's filled with pain, incapacity and dependence? These are questions worth asking.