I am a doctor who loves to use technology. But I also understand its limits. As an intensive care physician, I have great respect for the tools I have been trained to use. They have helped me rescue people from the jaws of death. But these tools can do more harm than good when used without first having an honest communication about what they can’t do.

Take Linda. She was born with a defective heart valve, which was replaced when she was in her 50s. She had a pacemaker implanted at the same time. But an errant pacemaker wire chafed the delicate replacement valve, which slowly began to build up scar tissue. It was a subtle undoing, not enough to be obvious but enough to cause increasingly serious health problems. Her heart problems were compounded by kidney failure and a recurring buildup of fluid in her lungs. She became increasingly fatigued and bedbound.

Linda’s poor medical status made a second valve replacement operation very risky. Her cardiologist recommended that she go across the country to a highly respected medical center in the Midwest that specializes in such procedures. Its cardiac surgeons were considered the “A” team for managing problem valves.

Linda’s husband, John, a civil engineer, was confident that reshaping Linda’s valve would restore the rest of her body to health. It would just take cool heads, some design thinking, and the steady hands and expertise of these spectacular surgeons. John possessed the education, resilience, and ingenuity to overcome most obstacles and, when it came to saving his wife’s life, he would spare no effort.

John hit the ground running, inserting himself into the medical team with confidence. He was pleasant but persistent, unafraid to ask questions or express opinions.

The operation was successful, but Linda encountered several severe complications afterward. The doctors included John in conversations about these complications as they cropped up, and even solicited his preferences regarding next steps for her. They continued to discuss with him the minutiae of her physiology and listen to his opinions on which drug or nutritional formula to consider next. There was always another treatment, another high-tech intervention to try. (…) Read Full Article Here

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