Patient’s dread that statement and it simply is NOT true.
I had a family from out of state whose father had experienced a prolonged and torturous death from cancer. He ended up going to the hospital looking for a miracle to keep him alive longer. During his stay his condition diminished rapidly, and he ended up dying away from his family and friends back home. He made the trip to the hospital because he had been hoping the medical community could give him more time. The whole family was in great pain as he became “stuck” in the hospital system during his last days of life. The doctors had told him “There’s nothing more we can do” and so he stayed.
There’s always something more we can do. Just because traditional treatment interventions have come to an end doesn’t mean it’s over for someone with a terminal illness.
The patient should not have made the trip in search of last-ditch help from traditional medicine, but there was a better way that message could have been communicated to him. The end of traditional medicine is not the end when you’re sick and dying. There’s more. Much more.
Part of the problem is that the health care industry has elevated nurses and doctors to a god-like level. We lose all hope when they appear to have given up on us. We’ve come to believe that medical interventions done by medical personnel are our only hope. And while I don’t disagree with going to a different doctor for a second opinion, I do wonder about our state of mind when we have reached the end of all treatments and we’re still looking for that one medical center that’s going to save us or a risky clinical trial that might help.
And terminally ill patients are not the only ones who lose their way. For instance, most of us who, like me, who have had cancer, can recall how easy it is to become obsessed and entrenched in all the medical interventions, with their shining promise of health and longer life on the other side. We often can’t see any other way to be when we’re sick. We live for every scan, every check-up, and every result. Our entire world hinges on those results. All cancer patients know the special dread of waiting to hear the results of a scan. There are only three possible outcomes.
The first: The scan is over, and your doctor says it’s all clear… for now.
The second: Oh no, you have cancer again. Back to the medical world running your whole show. Blood draws, machines, ports, toxic treatments that are supposed to “heal you,” counts, markers, surgeries, etc. All that is the center of your life now, because apparently that’s where all the help and hope is.
The third: You’ve done all you know to do, submitted to every recommendation and every type of treatment, but the cancer still comes back. You are faced with a doctor who gives you a speech that ends with “There’s nothing more we can do.” And you feel, at that moment, completely abandoned by the world.
It’s that third scenario that cancer patients dread the most, and that many will face. Because we have handed over to the medical profession responsibility not just for our bodies but also, somehow, for our hearts and minds and spirit, we believe that those words mean the end of hope and peace and life — the end of everything.
Instead of telling a terminally ill person “There’s nothing more we can do,” what if doctors said something more like this:
My Dear Patient, we’ve come to a point in this journey where to continue with traditional interventions will more than likely not stop the progression of your disease and in fact could do more harm and potentially shorten your life. Having said this, please know that there is much that we can do now to manage whatever symptoms you might experience. I know this news may not be what you had hoped to hear, nor one which you would view as having opportunities. But let me share what I believe might be beneficial to you at this time.
As your physician, I will continue to support you, provide resources to you, and discuss your wishes, your goals, and your preferences for your care. My goal for you will be to help you make a plan that promotes the highest quality of living for however long that might be. I have seen that this time in a person’s life can be one of profound growth and deeper meaning than ever before. The opportunities I would ask you to consider might include the following: looking closely at your relationships, considering the legacy you will leave for your family, accomplishing goals which you might have put on hold until a later date and time, making decisions about your financial affairs, and making informed choices about how you want to spend your energy and time on any given day.
There is always something more that can be done! Lots more!