An elder can easily get discouraged with all the research coming out about doctors for seniors. Doctors provide unrealistic prognoses, not discussing hospice, ignoring advance directives and generally setting the stage for a traumatic and painful death. Not all doctors will disappoint you in your elder years, you just have to know how to find the right doctor for seniors.This article comes in praise of physicians who put the "care" in healthcare. As I write this blog, I think of icons such as Dr. Timothy Quill, who wrote A Midwife Through the Dying Process, and all those who came under his magnificent mentoring. I think of the gentle doctor who sat at my mother's knee and cried as he broke the news that her husband of 60 years was gone. I think of the researchers and practitioners at Dartmouth Medical School who lead an emerging "slow medicine" movement to put the brakes on aggressive, intrusive procedures for frail elderly. I think of those who know "truth" and "hope" are not mutually exclusive and a doctor's job is to share both.
Don't despair; medical professionals such as those listed above ARE out there. There are many wise, forthright and compassionate doctors prepared to be your companion and ally. You will find them eager to offer cure, care and expert advice, but also willing to let you direct the last scene of your life, when it comes to that.
What makes the perfect doctor for seniors?
A positive upbeat declaration is a great starting point. Share that you feel healthy, you love life and you intend to savor its fullness as long as humanly possible. However, you also believe in preparedness, and you'd like to make sure the two of you would be on the same wavelength in an end-of-life situation.
Interview Your Doctor: At Compassion & Choices, we often tell people to interview their doctor. The day you start wondering about end-of-life options is no time to discover your doctor's values and beliefs don't match your own. You might like some clues now to what your doctor's approach might be later. What kind of questions would get your doctor to open up?
- Doc, if I had an illness that looked pretty grim, how would you feel if I wanted to take a pass on the heroics and let nature take its course?
- I wouldn't want my family fighting over keeping me alive if I were in the condition of Terri Schiavo, with no chance of recovery. How would you handle a situation like that?
- What if I were dying and really struggling with pain or other agonies? Would you prescribe enough pain medication and sedatives to keep me comfortable, even if it meant my life might be a little shorter?
Value Humility in doctors for seniors. Above all. Find a doctor who utters the words, "I don't know" and you've found true gold. Happily, the time is gradually passing when the doctor's only source of pride lies in "doing everything" possible to prolong life. Some also take pride in serving as midwife to a good death.
Share the Value of What Family Means: Find a doctor who cherishes the love and bond of families, whose greatest need at the end is for a little quiet time and the caress of their beloved. Treasure the doctor who might respond to a family asking that "everything" be done, in the way suggested ten years ago by Duke University physician David Pisetsky:
I would like to say, ‘Family, only you can do everything. Only you can talk of your love and give kisses before the skin is cold. Only you can talk of the future and of dreams to be fulfilled. Only you can talk of the past when life was resplendent because time seemed infinite. Family, only you can oppose the flow of time and enjoy one last day together. Only you can give peace and sustenance for the next journey. Family, only you can do everything. I am only a physician. I can do nothing at all.’
Take a stand in your end of life choices and help find the perfect doctor for seniors that you care for.