We become familiar with diseases from our genetics. Certain diseases run in families. We learn the signs and symptoms, the treatments and prognoses. Heart disease runs rampant in my family. It struck down generations before me, and I have suffered from it.
My aunt recovered from her heart symptoms through bypass surgery. She then lived long enough to be struck by cancer.
With the cancer we went into strange territory. Her primary care doctor saw the signs of cancer probably as early as March, 2004, but took her time in referring my aunt to an oncologist. The oncologist also took his time. In the summer he detected the cancer through a biopsy, and referred my aunt to a second oncologist.
She saw the second oncologist in September. Despite her advanced age, the oncologist suggested she could be helped by radiation treatments. So she began radiation, and by the following in spring the oncologist said that the cancer had been removed.
Yet in September fluid filled her lungs. She was taken to a hospital, where the opinion was given that her cancer had reached stage four. She then went into Hospice, and died the first of November, All Saint’s Day.
In recent months, another person close to me has had cancer. Since March she has been in and out of local hospitals. These hospitals have benefited from new construction, and to see her in the rooms she had been placed in, we would park in vast garages and walk through behometh new structures. All of this construction was from a large fountain of money, and all of it showed institutional medicine as the out-of-scale dinosaur it has become.
The patterns have been similar to those experienced with my aunt. She was diagnosed with cancer in March, but radiation treatments did not begin until August. There may have been some valid reasons for the delay. Infections were recurring. But even these factors to not justify the considerable waiting time.
A few weeks ago, after radiation had finally begun, she was taken to a different hospital. Here the doctors were at least conscientious. They ran tests, and said that (1) her cancer was an advanced stage and (2) vigorous treatment would not ultimately help her. Her chances of survival were slim.
Now my friend waits for death. Diligent treatment may not have saved her life. The diagnosis may have come too late. Doctors, nurses and others engaged in healthcare see signs of impending death that many of us will miss.
But we will not know. Delays were made, and needed time was wasted without satisfactory explanations being given. If a patient’s condition is treatable, then treatment must be swift. If it is beyond treatment, then doctors must be frank. Without this transparency, patients and their families cannot make informed decisions.
There is a time for faith, and a time for skepticism. The pronouncements of physicians should not be accepted on faith.