An experienced caregiver shares three tips for injecting humanity into an often cold & arbitrary heath-care system
As a well-traveled, well-educated couple who spent most of their lives in New York City, Philip and Ruth Barash had witnessed and experienced much as they approached their golden years. A savvy New York couple, they’d learned to anticipate challenges.
Philip was a U.S. Army veteran who’d served in the Korean War and later became an attorney; Ruth’s education and experience includes philosophy, art, real estate, public relations and executive-level civic work. But one problem they didn’t foresee was navigating their own country’s health-care system. In the most prominent city of the wealthiest nation on the planet, how bad could it be?
“Philip’s health problems began in 1988 and steadily continued until his death in 2012,” says Barash, who shares her health-care experiences in a new book, For Better or Worse: Lurching from Crisis to Crisis in America’s Medical Morass.
“We were in and out of doctors’ offices, hospitals and emergency rooms a lot, and I was shocked by the lack of compassion we frequently encountered, as well as the number of health-care professionals who simply are not good diagnosticians.”
Barash’s cautionary tale traces her husband’s long death through a medical journey fraught with mismanagement and excess, useless interventions and a sometimes complete disregard for pain—even when there was no hope of healing.
“The art of intuitive, compassionate health care is dying as doctors rely more on technology and are guided through an arbitrary template established by insurance company policies,” she says.
Barash discusses some of the lessons she has learned while navigating overcrowded and dingy emergency room lobbies, callous staff and tech-absorbed doctors.
• Have an advocate! Through the years of Philip’s health problems, we encountered extreme kindness, thoughtfulness and high intelligence; we were also confronted with arrogance, indifference and self-serving staff during some of the worst moments. As hard as it was for both of us, we always knew we had each other. If and when you find yourself requiring medical assistance, avoid going it alone; it will be exponentially more difficult, and your chance for survival will exponentially decrease.
• Ask what benefits a proposed treatment will have. We all like to think we have good doctors, and that if we’re hospitalized, we’ll be competently cared for. We also like to think Santa will bring us nice presents if we’ve been good children. Realize that invasive and expensive tests are often not necessary; in fact, they often make things worse. Be as skeptical about a procedure proposed by a doctor as you would by any salesman.
• Don’t get sick! While this may seem like a facetious bit of advice, since we all succumb to illness at some point—it’s actually a sincere sentiment. Do not take your health for granted; do not think “they” will invent a quick fix between now and the time you find yourself in need of serious medical attention. Unnecessary health risks such as smoking, illegal drug use, excessive alcohol intake, and a diet filled with sugar, salt and fat will take you sooner rather than later to the hellish journey known as the U.S. health-care system.