Let's hear it for death panels.
That's the gruesome name Sarah Palin gave to the idea that medical professionals should be paid for the time they spend talking with patients about their options when they — the patients — are very sick.
In reality, the health care bill included nothing about "panels" at all. Nothing about a judge — or jury. No guy in a black hood with a giant ax would have been hulking around behind Grandma. What the bill was talking about, in fact, is just the kind of discussion I had yesterday, about my own mom, with her hospice worker.
Here is what is strange about our health system today: If your mom, like mine, has advanced dementia and she, like mine, has all but stopped eating, her doctor still could be reimbursed for running a battery of tests on her. After all, medical tests are covered.
So are feeding tubes. So are breathing tubes. All the gadgets that prolong life are covered with nary a raised eyebrow about what, exactly, we are prolonging. But an hourlong heartfelt doctor-to-patient chat — or a chat with the patient's family members about whether they think their mom would want to continue living even if she had no idea where she was, who they were and why there was a feeding tube in her stomach — that is not worth a reimbursement?
Apparently not. Once those chats got the "death panel" name, the issue proved so divisive that it was axed from the bill.
We know who was hulking under that black hood.
And so we will continue to have care like this: When my mom was suddenly hospitalized a few months ago, brought there by her caregiver when she seemed to be having some kind of "episode," the hospital tied my frantically confused mom to the bed. They gave her a sedative that seemed to have the opposite effect intended. Wild-eyed and thrashing, she — guess what? — didn't eat the food they brought. So when I got there, 20 hours or so after she'd been admitted (I live in New York; she lives at home in Chicago with a full-time aide), the doctor ordered a SWALLOW TEST.
Yes, they were going to do a test on her THROAT to determine why she wasn't eating.
As if it was some mechanical problem! Not the fact she was a sleep-deprived 85-year-old woman who couldn't recognize her own daughter and, by the way, had been tied to the bedrails all night like a madwoman in some gothic insane asylum.
I'll tell you what is insane: assuming there is something compassionate about AVOIDING end-of-life care discussions. I sprang my mom from the hospital — signing a waiver that absolved the place of liability — and saved her from several other tests they'd ordered for the next day, too. Tests that would have cost Medicare (and made the hospital) a tidy sum.
I don't want my mom to suffer. I think a breathing tube or a stomach tube would be unbearable to someone who does not understand why these things suddenly are attached to her — and who probably would need to be sedated all the time, lest she yank them out.
And that's the chat I had with the hospice care worker yesterday. Reiterating the wishes my sister and I already had talked about. Remembering our mother's own words when we'd discussed this stuff very theoretically years ago: "I don't want to live like that."
I'm so grateful hospice stood ready for that talk and helped us get our paperwork in place. "Death panels" would make it easier for all families to do the same, which is why they need another chance — and a new name. How about mercy panels? Human decency panels? Or — wait!
Considering they give the living a chance to think about what they really want for themselves or the people they love, I've got the perfect name:
Lenore Skenazy is the author of "Who's the Blonde That Married What's-His-Name? The Ultimate Tip-of-the-Tongue Test of Everything You Know You Know — But Can't Remember Right Now" and "Free-Range Kids: Giving Our Children the Freedom We Had Without Going Nuts with Worry." To find out more about Lenore Skenazy (email@example.com) and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.
Up with death panels!
Let's hear it for death panels.