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Northwest Voices

Seattle Times letters to the editor

January 14, 2014 at 12:09 PM

End-of-life care: the role of a health-care provider and the predictability of death

When it makes sense to go against a health-care provider

In response to David Baker, there is a time to die and there is a time to disagree with health-care providers [“When is it worth saving a life?” Opinion, Jan. 9].

In her early 90s, my mom had blocked arteries in her leg and faced potential amputation. After two failed surgical repairs, our advocacy led to a third surgery lasting 8 hours and later days in the intensive care unit where she nearly died. But she lived to be 96 years old and kept her leg. What were those four to six years worth?

She saw the birth of three great-grandchildren. She saw her granddaughter, born the same day as she, married in Tours, France, and a grandson married in Oklahoma. She went on white-water-rapid adventures and drives to watch the sunset on the Oregon Coast.

Mom’s doctor told her she had an enlarged heart that would kill her. In response, at 95, mom got out her rickety ladder, her 5-gallon bucket and picked her apple trees all week, just so she could tell her doctor what she had done. Heart disease indeed.

Doctors suffer a peculiar blindness: They are guided and biased by their science. However, they will never know your loved ones. But you do, so take good care of them.

Carl (Bert) Paul, Lacey

How to prepare best for death

David Baker’s “When is it worth saving a life?” is beautifully written, and painfully to the point.

As a speech pathologist working in acute care for 25 years, I have had the pleasure and pain of being with patients and families struggling with difficult end-of-life questions. I have watched helpless patients be “treated” when grieving families are desperate for more living time, and have been humbled by the courage of many to let go graciously. They are agonizing scenarios, both deserving of the utmost respect.

Death is the one aspect of life that is absolutely predictable. As one broadly smiling Rinpoche noted years ago in Seattle, “Westerners are so frightened of death. Don’t be afraid; we will all succeed.”

It might be time for early directive discussions in the doctor’s office to begin with: “When it comes to your time, what do you see as your happiest, most comfortable way of dying?” What if people started thinking about their “best death” or “what does dying well look like?”

We might slowly begin to change the perception that death is a bad way to end life. We might succeed in dying well, instead of fearing that life, in the end, failed us.

Sandy Hirsch, Seattle

There is no cure for getting old

David Baker’s opinion piece questioning the wisdom of providing medical procedures solely for the purpose of putting off inevitable death was so very thoughtful. Being alive is not the same as having a life. There has to be more reason for living than just being alive.

I am in my 70s and occasionally my grandchildren will ask about how long I want to live. My response is this: “I don’t want to live long, I want to live well.” Given family history, I have about 20 years to go.

There is no question that medical science can do wonderful things. And hooray for that. But there is no cure for getting old; you can’t get well. This is not getting over the flu or having a broken arm set.

Medical practice should focus on improving life, not merely sustaining it. Family members who insist on the latter are not acting in a loving way.

Clark Douglas, Mount Vernon

Comments | More in Health care | Topics: death, end-of-life care, health care

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