People who help you die better

❝ Thirty years ago a young anaesthetist, newly appointed as head of department at Calicut Medical College Hospital in the Indian state of Kerala, encountered a case that would change his life.

❝ A college professor aged 42 with cancer of the tongue had been referred to him by an oncologist. The man was in severe pain and the anaesthetist, Dr. M R Rajagopal, was asked if he could help. He injected the mandibular nerve in the jaw in a procedure known as a nerve block and told the patient to return in 24 hours. Next day, the pain had almost completely gone and Dr. Raj, as he is known, was pleased with his work.

“He asked me when he should come back. I told him there was no need to come back, unless the pain returned. I thought he would be happy I had cured the pain. Instead, he went home and killed himself that night.”

❝ It turned out that the oncologist had avoided explaining to the college professor that his cancer was terminal. Instead he had said he was referring him for further treatment.

“It was only when I told him there was no need to come back that he realised his cancer was incurable. He went home and told his family it was all over.”…

❝ …His patient’s suicide showed him that treating the pain was not enough…“I realised that thinking about nerve blocks was too narrow. Pain is just the visible part of the iceberg of suffering. What is ignored is the part below the surface — feelings of hopelessness and despair, worries about money, about children. That is what palliative care is about. That man gave up his life to help me understand it.”

RTFA. Please. I worked in a small way with those who brought the hospice concept to the United States. Palliative care should be a right for every human being. That’s not so easy in a nation whose government considers healthcare a privilege – and treats it as such.

Click the link. Read this tale.

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