End of Life Care: We Can Do So Much Better (Dedicated to Wilbur)
Ever since I watched my grandfather and grandmother suffer from devastating diseases like diabetes and dementia, I have always been passionate about how we treat people at the end of their lives. With all of the technology, specialized medicine, and wonderful hospitals we have in this country we often never know when it’s time to stop using them. As physicians, we are so afraid of losing patients (i.e. failing), and death and dying in general, that we often lose sight of “life and living”. Sometimes the best medicine is to not only let people go, but more importantly to let them go on their own terms.
Yesterday, I lost of one my longtime patients and supporters- Mr. Wilbur Basset at the age of 89. (I am using his name and picture with permission from his family.) Wilbur and I met when I first moved to practice in Marblehead 8 years ago. What struck me about him was both how healthy he was for an older man, and even better how incredibly sarcastic and funny he was. I always enjoyed that he was for lack of better terms “a curmudgeon”. He never complained unless something was truly bothering him. It took 8 years, and me removing myself from the factory mill of modern day healthcare in order to move to the Direct Care model, for me to actually meet his family and spend time with them. I am so glad that they stuck with me and gave me the chance to show them what medicine can be like.
Unfortunately, over the past few months Wilburs illness and condition worsened. I saw him in the office with his daughter a few weeks ago and I could tell that he was declining. Given how stubborn he was, he always fought through stuff, but this time he just looked different. As I helped him in the car he said “I am so ‘blanking’ done with this.” I just knew he was ready. So after his daughter and I had a great chat about consulting with Hospice, he sadly ended up in the hospital before we could get the consultation scheduled. When I visited him there I could see how miserable he was. After a week or so, which of course included a few unnecessary consults, he rapidly worsened and was transferred to the Kaplan House where he peacefully passed away with family by his side after a day. Fortunately I got to say my goodbye to him yesterday.
As a system, we have to do better for patients like Wilbur and their families. We must do better. For me, I will always remember him the way he was a few weeks ago, and I will always be thankful to have had the opportunity to care for him and his family through his journey. I may not be a specialized surgeon or a cancer specialist, but I am so thankful that Wilbur and his family went Direct Care with me and granted me the most gratifying job in the world. I was his doctor.
Rest in peace Mr Bassett. You have earned it and did it on your terms.