THE BETTER END: SURVIVING (AND DYING) ON YOUR
OWN TERMS IN TODAY’S MODERN MEDICAL WORLD‖
BY DAN MORHAIM, M.D.
Let’s go back in time 100 years…
At age 50, Harold Johnson, a farmer in western Pennsylvania, had already exceeded theaverage life expectancy for his era. Two of his siblings and one of his own children hadpassed away before reaching the age of twenty. A daughter-in-law had died in childbirth.Despite these losses, Harold had enjoyed a full life with Martha, his wife of twenty-sixyears, with whom he had four living children and two grandchildren.
But now Harold’s
life was nearing its close. He developed a bad cold lingered over thewinter. It seemed to intensify the pains he occasionally felt in his chest after physical
labor, and he’d had to ask his sons to manage the spring planting without his help. As
summer wore on, even the least exertion left him out of breath, until finally he lacked thestrength to get out of bed most days.Dr. Read, the Johnson famil
y’s physician, had trained at Yale Medical College in
and kept up with all the latest advances. He’d managed to buy Harold a few
years of pain relief using nitroglyc
erin tablets, but as Harold’s heart muscle deteriorated,
his blood flow decreased. His skin became pale, and fluid began to build up in his lungs,making his breathing even harder. Then pneumonia set in.When Dr. Read was called, he confirmed what Harold and Martha suspected: the end wasdrawing near for Harold
. Dr. Read’s
scientific medical bag was fairly empty. The
antibiotics that could have cured Harold’s pneumonia wouldn’t be available
for anotherthree decades. The cardiac surgery, appliances, and medications that could have repaired
his heart’s function were even more distantly removed –
seventy to ninety years in the
future. But Dr. Read wasn’t entirely helpless. He’d known the Johnson family for years,
and just his presence provided a degree of co
mfort and dignity to Harold’s dying process.Dr. Read made daily house calls, feeling Harold’s pulse, charting the course of his fever
and other symptoms, and counseling Harold and Martha. He let them know when it wastime to summon the children and grandchildren, the minister from their church, and
Harold’s brother from Baltimore.
used to be known as ―the old person’s friend,‖ because it brought a gradual
but relatively quick and painless end. As Harold failed, his family and friends came tosay goodbye. They talked with Harold about his life and times, both the good and thebad.As the days progressed,
Harold’s breathing became more labored, then shallower. He
drifted in and out of consciousness. Finally, he lapsed into a coma. With Martha at hisside, and his children and grandchildren surrounding his bed, Harold breathed his last.Now, fast-forward 100 years.