I received a letter from a woman whose father recently died. She explained all the surgeries, medical interventions, TPN, gastrostomy,  multiple catheters, medicines, and hospitalizations that she, her father, and their family dealt with over an 18-month period.

She lamented that no one in the medical arena, except one woman who used to be a hospice nurse, talked with her or her family about her father dying.

As horrific and overwhelmingly sad as this experience was for this family, I’m sorry to say it really is quite typical of our medical system.

The medical model

Today, our medical model is to fix diseases and problems that people have. If they can’t eat, we tube-feed them. If they can’t pee, they get dialysis. If they can’t poop, they get medical intervention for that. We try to fix people until the body just finally quits and even then we often try to restart the heart.

How tragic that none can come forward and say, “Your father is dying. Let’s stop all these extras and keep him comfortable.” Family as well as many individual physicians do what so many do – try to fix the body even when there is no fixing.

The hospice approach

Hospice says, “try to fix people within reasonable limits, BUT when we see (and we do eventually see) that a person can’t be fixed, stop treating and provide comfort.”

The hospice nurse was able to recognize that this man was dying. He was in his 80s with all of the physical challenges that come with this advanced age. This man was dying–and dying naturally.

He lived a long life and his body was overwhelmed by disease. His body was dying and would die no matter how many medical interventions were tried. The medical system simply prolonged his dying and his suffering.

Our body is programmed to die.

What happened here infuriates me. This person and family suffered and are still suffering, as do so many because no one (except one nurse) had the courage to speak the truth. This man couldn’t be fixed and would die.

Barbara Karnes, RN, is an internationally respected speaker, educator, author, and thought leader on matters of end of life. She is a renowned authority on the dying process and a leading educator for families, healthcare professionals, and the community at large.