For the entire twenty-four years of my life thus far, I have been under the assumption that hospitals and intensive care units were places used exclusively for helping with the recovery process. But after reading “Letting Go” by Atul Gawande, my perspectives have shifted quite dramatically.
The story is centered on Sara, who is diagnosed with a terminal lung cancer. The doctors who are assigned to treat her give her many different medications and treatments, and even more unnecessary false hopes for recovery. The doctor in this story seems to be compassionate about his patients and what he does for them; however, if he had just been blunt about her prognosis, she probably would have been spared a decent amount of painful chemotherapy and radiation treatments.
So what should medicine do if it doesn’t save your life? The answer to that is in the same story. It should provide comfort so you can live the remainder of your days, weeks, or months as peacefully as possible. I highly support the work that is done by hospices and palliative care centers. The thought of a hospice may be dreadful to most people, but their job is to provide quality of life over quantity of life. Medication should also be used to benefit the families of the terminally ill, giving them enough time to say their last words and be less devastated by the loss.
As stated in the story, death used to be a short-lived event. In Sara’s case, just like many others, it has become a process. We do not want to stop administering the medications because it would destroy us to lose a loved one; but instead, we watch them slowly suffer and die. As quoted directly from the story: “In the previous three months, almost nothing we’d done to Sara … had likely achieved anything except to make her worse. She may well have lived longer without any of it. At least she was spared at the very end.” This is the case in many scenarios—and we should seriously consider easing the suffering of our loved one to make dying easier.