Unqualified Prognosis and It’s Effects
Posted by jeremiasx on February 5, 2007
Dear Medical Community (and other “Professionals”),
You may be unaware of the power of your words…when you tell a patient’s family that, “It’s most likely that he won’t make it through the night…if there’s anyone you need to call…you should do it now,” they will usually listen, in that subdued silence one usually reserves for rulers, medicine men and Gods…
My friends…I had this very experience just yesterday at the Northwest Arkansas Regional Medical Center concerning my grandfather, whom I love and believe walks on water (as per the country song of the same name, and I usually HATE country music). I’m writing today to just try to scratch the surface of how truly freaking angry I am, to try to vent a little I guess. If you are hoping for thoughtful political discourse, abandon all hope ye who read on from this point.
I’ll give a little bit of background on the whole situation. My grandpa is 78 years old…he’s the only “grandpa” I ever had because my mother’s parents were dead and gone by the time I began to have collective memory and the wherewithal to know people by name or face. I speak often of my grandfather to people because in my mind he is a hero of the greatest type. He represents an all but forgotten generation of Americans who believed in always doing what was right for the sake of morality, fighting for what they believed in for the sake of posterity, and always telling the truth no matter how inconvenient or damning it might personally be.
He is a veteran of two major conflicts, both Korea and Vietnam…he volunteered for three tours in the former and five, yes, five in the latter…coming out as a first sergeant from the U.S. Army infantry and airborne corps. He earned three Purple Hearts, two Bronze stars, and a Silver star for his valor and actions in wartime. After returning home and telling the employment agency that his main qualifications for work were killing and jumping out of airplanes, they suggested he find some type of training, which he did. He didn’t roll around on the floor and complain about how life “wasn’t fair” or how he was “owed a living” for his family…he went to school and obtained training that he then put to good use, making a stake so he could later open a few small business concerns.
He eventually sold these concerns, retired for a second time and pursued his hobby exclusively, which is HAM radio…what I consider to be a forerunner to today’s “chat rooms” for all intents and purposes. He showed me, as a small boy, how to use morse code and had at one point hoped to inspire me to pursue the hobby myself, though I became sidetracked by the growth of computer bulletin board systems and the barely emerging technology of the Internet…in a way I do the same thing he used to except I do it on a computer and phone line instead of on thousands of dollars worth of radio equipment and a fifty foot tower. I remember him sitting up late at night talking politics and other fun BS with folks all over the world at two in the morning, which was a time I never got to see at my own house but when I was at grandpa and grandmas, the rules were different sometimes…don’t get me wrong…I found myself at the business end of grandpas belt more than once…but there were certain liberties I had there which I didn’t have at home.
He helped me through the hardest times of my life…through failed relationships and the loss of my first son, through addiction issues, and even through the time in my life where I didn’t know why I bothered to wake up in the morning at all. His stern criticisms and biting logical arguments were just what my liberal and sometimes chaotic mind needed. His “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” and “be a damn man” advice helped me plenty of times, even when I didn’t want to hear it. He also inspired me to become a freemason, and that bond is something that helps us to better understand each other as men and makes us brothers…even with our age difference.
Enough background…I hope you understand how much I love and revere my elderly and wise grandfather, and always have…that’s the point. Anyhow…I moved to the place in which I live now when my grandmother called me last year, after the untimely death of my mother, and asked me to come live up here in Newton County (the middle of nowhere, literally, home of Dogpatch and one of the most beautiful places on Earth) and help them out a bit. I’ve basically molded my current existence around the idea of being of service to their needs so much so that we moved into a rental property about a mile down the road from them and managed to install my wife as their personal home health aide through the VA program. I’m not bitching…I’m just trying to help you understand how obligated I feel to this man who taught me everything from how to take a proper shower to how to clean catfish, shoot a gun, etc…
Yesterday morning, about six a.m., I got a call from my grandmother…she wasn’t crying, and seemed very calm. I immediately worried…she is never calm and is usually upset about something. She told me the ambulance was at the house and that my Grandpa was coughing up blood and having muscle spasms, on top of the palsy, asbestosis, pneumonia (he got that a week ago) and other various maladies he usually suffers from. I threw on my clothes and drove her to the hospital which is about twenty miles down the highway, through the twists and turns of the Ozark mountains…she didn’t complain that I was speeding even once…so I knew it was serious.
Upon arrival, we of course knew very little about the situation…then about ten a.m., my aunt and I spoke with the ER nurse, a really stern-faced and serious woman whom I would not expect to give advice lightly, or uninformed…she really sounded like she was certain of her information. She said that if we had any relatives to call in from afar, that now would be the time. She said that the combination of all of his symptoms led her to assess his condition as critical and therefore we should not expect him to live for very long.
This news of course floored my grandmother, sent my one aunt into immediate action calling all of our relatives from hundreds of miles around, and as for myself…I cried. I sat with my grandfather for many hours in the ER and ICU, holding his hand and thinking about how short life truly is…and thanking my Creator for giving me the gift of all the good times and memories we shared. We called in the preacher from grandpa’s church and held a bedside prayer vigil. By the time I said good night and took my wife and son home to get some much needed rest, I had convinced myself that all was lost and that the next phone call I would get would be the one in which I would be informed that my grandfather was, in fact, dead…and so I came home, tried like hell to sleep but had a difficult time…tried to write…couldn’t think of anything to say…finally passed out about one this morning.
When I woke up…there was no missed call light…I was starting to wonder when the phone did ring…and I heard my aunt and grandma chatting it up with the sounds of buffet madness in the background. I wasn’t sure what to think. My grandma then told me that the nurse had been full of shit, that she hadn’t looked back through the chart to take note that my grandfather ALWAYS apparantly has low blood pressure, and had basically just made the assumption (which is in fact “the mother of all fuck ups”, according to my equally wise stepfather) that my grandfather was in the throes of Death…
I was dumbfounded, elated, and pissed at the same time. Have any of you ever felt this way? My wife talked with me for a few minutes after I hung up the phone…I guess she pointed out (rightly) that I was being selfish in my miserably angry state…that I should just be happy and forget the wrong perpetrated by our errant Florence Nightingale, and just move on. I am moving on…right now…I know that writing is a huge help for me, as it helps to assimilate my thoughts and feelings into a coherant and tangible means of release for all my concerns.
The Message: If you aren’t qualified to make a prognosis…don’t attempt to. Have the courage and the moral fortitude to say, “You know what…I don’t know…it looks bad to me but I’m not really qualified to say.” This goes for any occupation you might be in…whether your talking about the condition of someone’s car or the condition of a loved one’s health…think of the consequences of the things you say to people. Words count. Words are powerful. Choose your words carefully and judiciously.
That’s my two cents…I know this is a strong departure from my usual political stuff but I plan to incorporate some of this information into future posts… so if you keep score, remember what I said here today.