A Reminder to Doctors about the Meaning of Life
Two years ago, after being fired by a nationwide wound care company for failing to generate sufficient revenue, I left clinical practice greatly disillusioned and carrying a two-year non-compete clause. Not until three weeks ago, did I again treat a patient, establishing my new clinical practice at a fitness center.
As I was finishing a workout, a man of about 40 sat down at the rowing machine next to me. Not particularly interested in good form, John (not his real name) appeared intent on beating the machine. The machine resisted. As I walked away, I heard a loud thud and saw John, collapsed next to the rower, after suffering an apparent cardiac arrest. Bypassing introductions, a team quickly formed. With my Saint Mary Miraculous Medal dangling over the patient, I provided chest compressions; another member provided rescue breaths, and a third placed the AED, which provided one shock. At the hospital, John had a stent placed to open a 90% blockage in one of his coronary arteries and was expected to make a complete recovery. God had again reminded me, as a physician, that life is a gift we care for.
Many people now know of Damar Hamlin, who suffered a similar event on national television. After COVID politics, under which the physician's first obligation to provide the best care for his patient has frequently been ignored (e.g., mandated vaccines for patients with immunity), millions of Americans were again reminded what real medicine looks like, as a medical team revived Damar. Illustrative of a true doctor-patient relationship, the focus was solely on Damar's health. There were no legal consent forms, no administrators detailing which procedures could be billed, no food from a salesman pushing the "best drug" for a patient in cardiac arrest, and no complex codes required prior to chest compressions.
Patients have the right to expect from their physician a relationship free from the influence of power, money, and anonymous third parties. After many years of training, and drawing upon the experience of thousands of doctor-patient interactions, I have come to fully understand that it is the exclusivity of the doctor-patient relationship that gives meaning to medicine. Without it, we are like Christians without Jesus Christ.
It is vital to clarify that America's current, tremendous distrust of the medical profession, although greatly amplified by the COVID pandemic, did not begin with COVID. Its genesis was in the 1970s with the American medical community's decision that, given sufficient payment, we would deny the existence of our ethical obligation to establish a doctor-patient relationship with certain "lesser value" unborn children. In so doing, the sanctity of the bedrock doctor-patient relationship was put up for sale, and the art of medicine became a business. In this new Wild West type of medicine, those entities that promised to bring the most money into the relationship were heartily invited. Government intrusion and mandates, complicated insurance plans and bizarre coding, pharmaceutical propaganda, unscrupulous lawyers, administrators focused on profit, and expensive computer systems have all joined the doctor and patient, generating a large group relationship with each entity, adding cost and providing unnecessary barriers to patient care.
So many entities are currently mandated in the relationship with patients that the joy of medicine has become the drudgery of working for a large, costly bureaucracy. Care of patients has thus been degraded, and the ability of individual doctors to re-establish the proper doctor-patient relationship has become nearly impossible. To the brightest and most ethically driven young Americans, medicine, especially primary care, sadly has little external appeal, spelling greater pain for aging Americans without strong finances.
As the foundation for this lucrative but grossly disordered concept of medicine, the same physician hierarchy that ignored the individual needs of patients during COVID has been working tirelessly since the '70s to convince America that not all life has equal value. Doctors have redefined conception and invented an illogical meaning for reproductive health, designed to convince doctors and patients that somehow impeding an organ system from functioning properly or destroying its end products constitutes essential health care. Happily for Damar and the millions praying for him, cardiac health care has not been similarly distorted.
Indications remain that many Americans will continue to resist this anti-life message. As devoid of politics as any national story can possibly be these days, Damar Hamlin's story provides an opportunity to see the sincere, unfiltered goodness of everyday Americans, who still instinctively know that all human life matters. Our actions, especially in time of crisis, are guided by that ideal. The immediate outpouring of love, including millions of dollars in donations to Damar's charity for children, wasn't given because of BLM mottos or the nauseating political correctness on the part of the NFL. Rather, it was driven by a heartwarming love of our fellow man, a sincere love, irrespective of race, religion, or politics. In Damar, we saw the humanity of our father, our child, our brother, and we understood the value of human life.
I am a physician who believes, based on natural law and embryology, in the sanctity of human life from fertilization to natural death. That the Catholic faith shares my belief on human life is an indication of the fullness of the Faith, but it is not my reason for having this conviction. Mine is a reasoned battle fought in the midst of an anti-life establishment. It is a fight that is generally unemotional, and often disheartening, and it usually involves the lives of the very young and the elderly — lives that clearly have value equal to mine.
The emotional attachment to these human lives is often limited — a point the medical establishment relies upon to dehumanize them. But ultrasounds of the unborn are powerful.
Occasionally, during this battle, in our work as physicians, we are granted an emotional reinvigoration and reminder of the immense power and corresponding tremendous responsibility we have to care for all human life. Sitting in the pew for daily Mass shortly after doing CPR for the first time since a long-ago residency, I prayed for John and thanked the Lord for this reminder and the honor of being a physician.
Image: Bru-nO via Pixabay, Pixabay License.