I was trying to figure out where I could go to get away from what the doctor was telling me. I wondered why he hadn’t taken me to a private room to give me such devastating news. Dan only had a 2% chance of living; they weren’t going to perform liver transplant surgery with those odds, he said. The words 2% were the equivalent of a death sentence, but he spoke them as though he were giving me the fat content of a carton of milk. ~ excerpt from A Box of Kleenex, HERE.
The word “hospital” is related to “hospice” and “hospitality,” all words that might conjure thoughts of “guest,” “care,” and “death.” For me, death is what I associate most with hospitals. Even though both my sons were born in hospitals, it’s the hospital deaths I’ve experienced that stand out the most. Because of them I became intimate with hospital settings, after spending many days in patient rooms and waiting rooms in an altered, yet heighten state of awareness.
In 2001, my brother Dan was desperately in need of a new liver. First, he was deemed too healthy to be a priority on the liver transplant waiting list. Then, when he took a sharp turn for the worst and was hospitalized, he was determined to be too sick to withstand the surgery. I remember the doctor discussing dialysis after Danny’s kidneys shut down. “It’s like putting new brakes in a car when you really need a new transmission,” he said.
Spending the last few weeks of his life in the hospital, Dan endured many painful procedures and interventions. The interventions might have given me and my family more time to get used to the idea that he was dying, but they also could have weakened him to the point of accelerating his death. He had two liver doctors, a kidney doctor, a lung doctor, a stomach doctor, a pain management team, a physical therapist, and an occasional surgeon taking care of different body parts, but no doctor oversaw the person Dan was, except for the priest, but he was more interested in Dan’s soul.
When my eighty-one year old father was hospitalized four years later after a car accident, he initially seemed fine. Later, an X-ray would show a fracture in his neck vertebrae. Even though it was never determined if it was an old fracture, a result of the accident, stable or not, doctors decided he would need to stay in the hospital and wear a neck brace as a safety measure.
My dad’s worst nightmare started when he was given Haldol – a powerful antipsychotic drug, sometimes used as a chemical restraint – for agitation. The Haldol led to heart irregularities, which led to more drugs. He eventually contracted pneumonia, as a direct result of hospital interventions. After being bedridden for five weeks, and surviving in spite of it, he was helped out of bed for a wheelchair ride, given by my sister, Sherry, on what turned out to be the last day of his life. Nobody was able to tell us what caused his death that evening, but I suspect a blood clot, created from being immobilized for so long, stopped his heart.
What the hospital staff didn’t know when they treated my dad for agitation was that my mother regularly read him horror stories out loud about people dying in hospitals from medical errors and secondary infections. Yes, he was agitated; he wanted out of the hospital in the worst way.
Some popular treatments create symptoms worse than those of the illness they are treating. The side effects from one drug can lead to another drug being prescribed, bringing on even more troubling side effects. One could argue that drugs don’t cure illnesses but that they only suppress symptoms. Some drugs have a rebound effect, which means that they eventually bring about the very symptoms they are treating. Others are prescribed only to be recalled later when it has been determined that they have killed people.
A well known 1999 study shocked the country with its findings when it was announced that hospital errors kill 195,000 people each year. A few years later another study found that about two million infections are acquired in U.S. hospitals each year, killing about 90,000 patients yearly. More recently it was reported that deaths from adverse reactions to prescription drugs have more than doubled in last ten years. Last week we were told that the cough medicines, linked with the deaths of some young children, are not only risky but that they aren’t even effective treatments.
So why do so many of us still religiously trust modern medicine? Why doesn’t my insurance company cover the alternative treatments that have proven helpful to me? Why are parents sometimes forced by courts to use standard medical practices when the record is so bad? The Institute of Health, National Academy of Sciences, which reported the number of deaths by medical errors in 1999, said that those deaths exceeded the number of those due to motor vehicle accidents, breast cancer, and AIDS. Considering that, and the latest alarming findings, is it any wonder that a number of Americans refuse that flu shot that still contains mercury?
Years ago women pushed for family-centered birth practices that wouldn’t pathologize birth. As some were moving towards midwife assisted homebirth options, birthing centers sprung up throughout the country in response. At the same time, families and health care practitioners were advocating for more family-centered and humane deaths, and the hospice movement was born. But what about everything that exists between birth and death? Could we resist the urge to pathologize health care?
Dr Robert Mendelsohn, author of Confessions of a Medical Heretic, has made the statement, “I believe that more than ninety percent of Modern Medicine could disappear from the face of the earth – doctors, hospitals, drugs, and equipment – and the effect on our health would be immediate and beneficial.” I agree that we’d be better off returning to simple remedies, using the handful of drugs that have proven themselves over time, and letting nature take its course when appropriate. For all our drugs and medical procedures, we don’t seem any healthier, or at the very least, we seem to have traded the plague and polio for diabetes, cancer, AIDS, and autism.
In Medelsohn’s book, first copyrighted in 1979, in a chapter titled “If This is Preventive Medicine, I’ll Take My Chances with Disease,” he discusses the risk of childhood vaccinations, all three of them. Now there are twelve childhood vaccines that the CDC recommends and that most schools require, with more being developed every day. It worries me that because some vaccines are administered more than once, most children have received twenty-three vaccines by the time they are two years old. And why has it been left up to parents to fight for safer vaccines? Why are they expected prove a link between vaccines and autism, or other adverse reactions? Shouldn’t it be up to the makers of vaccines to prove they are safe?
I do appreciate the care given by individuals in the health care field and the success stories of modern medicine. But I believe, on the whole, the system is unacceptably flawed, to the point where being in the hospital is like playing Russian roulette and following a doctor’s every order has the potential of making us guinea pigs for pharmaceutical company profits.
Post notes: The following thoughts have been brewing in me for a long time, but I found myself avoiding the enormity of such a complicated subject. I was hoping the Sunday Scribblings writing prompt would be one about umbrellas, since I have some great photos of me with my purple one out in yesterday’s rain. But the prompt was “hospital,” and it acted as nudge, causing these words to finally converge.