A vivid and chilling piece about hospital care is getting a lot attention on the health care blogs. Written by ICU nurse Kristen McConnell, it describes the pain and fear often inflicted on patients in their last days or weeks, always in the name of extending their lives. Discussion about the costs and morality of end of life care has been subject to demagoguery (Sarah Palin’s “death panels” comments the most notorious example). But the fact is that most of us don’t want ourselves, or our loved ones, to live out the last days of our lives in horrific, humilitating, circumstances. (And not so incidentally, at huge financial cost). But families are often ignorant of standard hospital operating procedures, and it’s a subject most of us prefer not to think about. We’ll all die of sudden strokes, perfectly lucid and on the way back from the library, at the age of 84. Won’t we?
Probably not. The author describes in painful detail what end of life care at a top American hospital can be like, “a taste of hell during a person’s last days on earth.” It’s a perspective that should be part of any national health care debate.