By Dr. Jessica Nutik Zitter

Source: Hadassah Magazine

As a physician who practices both intensive care and palliative care medicine at the public Highland Hospital in Oakland, Calif., I am also the “go-to” person at my synagogue for advice on serious illness.

Four years ago, a fellow congregant at Beth Jacob Congregation, also in Oakland, confided in me that his father, who suffered from severe dementia, was attached to a breathing machine in a local hospital’s intensive care unit. The congregant came to me with the usual questions—should he leave him on it and for how long?

That same year, my rabbi asked me to speak with the family of another member whose skin cancer, which had already spread to multiple organs, had now reached her brain. She was considering a fourth course of chemotherapy. She was so weak she could barely get out of bed. I spent hours with both families, coaching them how to talk to the medical team and helping them figure out what they wanted to say.

In the case of Peter Shankman’s father, the doctors were planning to exchange his temporary breathing tube for a tracheostomy, a more permanent and stable connection that is surgically implanted through the neck. They were also planning to exchange the temporary feeding tube for a permanent G-tube, which is surgically placed through the abdominal wall into the stomach to deliver liquid calories.

For her part, the toxic chemotherapies that Arlene Steinberg, the skin cancer patient, was scheduled to receive were only slightly different than those that had been tried—and failed—before. I felt that these decisions were not in Steinberg and Shankman’s best interest.

There is a public health crisis surrounding frail and seriously ill patients in the United States. Most people, afraid of talking—or even thinking—about death, receive high-tech treatments that support organ functions until they die. But the lives they live on these machines are almost never what they would have signed up for. Their remaining time is filled with suffering, restraints and isolation. It’s not only traumatizing for the patient but for the family, too. Yet it’s done in the name of love. (…) Read Full Article Here

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