Philip was a U.S. Army veteran who’d served in the Korean War and later became an attorney. My education and experience include philosophy, art, real estate, public relations and executive-level civic work. But one problem we didn’t foresee was navigating our 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.
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.
This cautionary tale traces my 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.
In “For Better or Worse: Lurching from Crisis to Crisis in America’s Medical Morass,” I discuss some of the lessons learned while navigating overcrowded and dingy emergency room lobbies, callous staff and tech-absorbed doctors.
Here are just a few of those learnings:
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. 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.
(About the writer: Ruth Fenner Barash studied philosophy at City College of New York and did graduate work at the University of Chicago. In 1958, she met and married Philip Barash, a private practice attorney. Her long marriage was a “harmonious adventure” despite what the couple called a “treacherous journey” through the health care system. Her husband died in 2012. She shares their story in a new book, “For Better or Worse: Lurching from Crisis to Crisis in America’s Medical Morass.”)