I sit, listening to the labored breathing coming from the next room. The end will come probably sometime this next week, likely as the result of a fever and while she is asleep. As deaths go, it'll be one of the best possible, with minimal pain, discomfort, and fear.
I'm talking about my mother-in-law, who is 88, has Alzheimer's, and for whom I have been primary care-giver for the last couple of years. She wasn't particularly active in politics, wasn't a celebrity, didn't invent anything, wasn't an author.
Then why am I writing about this very personal event in this very public political forum?
Because some short time ago, when it became clear that my mother-in-law was not going to recover from her latest medical problems, my wife and I decided to enter her into Hospice.
I knew of Hospice as an medical movement designed to make the last weeks or months of life as comfortable as possible, with a primary emphasis on palliative care. And this it is. But I've discovered that it is so much more.
Our "hospice team" includes a nurse who comes by as often as we need her. If that's once a week, or twice a day, it doesn't matter. We have on call personal care aides, a chaplain, a social worker (to help me and my wife with any of the issues surrounding the imminent death of a loved one), as often as we need them. If we need any medical equipment, from a hospital bed to oxygen, it's arranged for. All prescribed meds for her condition are delivered to our door. Basically, anything we need or want which pertains to my mother-in-law's health is provided. And it is all 100% covered by Medicare.
And it is a shame that you have to die to get this kind of medical care.
Because that's the deal. This kind of care is only available to those who enter hospice. It makes monetary sense, since by helping those who are facing death to die with dignity, at home, with family, the medical care system is saved massive amounts of money trying to prolong life through the use of increasingly aggressive (and expensive) means.
But similarly, wouldn't the medical care system save massive amounts of money by proper preventative care for everyone? Routine medical problems, dealt with before they require the intensive resources of an ER, could be resolved efficiently and with less pain and suffering if everyone had access to free (or, more accurately, government-funded) primary care.
Oh, I know, we should all be good rational consumers, and if our health care costs were coming out of our own pockets directly, then we're more likely to minimize waste. It's the free market at work and all that jazz. Except that when it comes to health care, you just want to get the care you need, not to go shopping around for the best deal on a CAT scan to locate exactly where that tumor is that needs to be removed.
Medicare works. It's proof that a government-run health insurance system can make rational, and even considerate, choices available to us all. It should be the model for our entire health care system, and put us on a competitve par with all the other industrialized countries in the world.
I'll try and stick around to be a good diarist and participate in any discussion, but you'll understand if I need to be gone to care for this lovely lady in the next room.