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Doctors Should Ask If Treatment Has Gone Too Far

Sometimes the best medical care physicians can offer is none at all


(This article appeared previously on GetBetterHealth.com.)

My newly admitted patient was at the end of a very long struggle with a devastating genetic disorder. He had been treated by some of the finest experts in America for his rare disease and had come to my rehab unit for aggressive physical and occupational therapy. He was exhausted, but mustered the energy to tell me — probably the 100th physician to treat him — his complicated story.

Listening to this man, and examining his frail body, I realized that he had already explored every treatment option and avenue available. He had extensive conversations about his genetic variant and which drugs could possibly modify his course. He had tried pretty much everything once, with little improvement.

He told me that the team of experts at my hospital were rallying to repeat some of the costly treatments that had failed previously, to see if maybe this time they could make a difference.

A Different Direction

As our eyes met, I realized we both knew that these treatments were not worthwhile. I could see that he didn’t want to be “non-compliant” with his physicians’ recommendations and was reluctantly willing to give their plans a shot. I knew that he needed to hear that it was OK to say “no.”

I took in a deep breath and voiced what we both knew to be true — there was no further need for IV medication. Now was the time to make the most of the function he had, to get him home with family support and to focus on enjoying life rather than fighting a disease.

The relief brought him to tears. I began to put his socks back on his cold feet. He asked if I could leave them off.

I joked with him softly, “I guess your feet just want to be free.”

He smiled and nodded.

I didn’t order any tests or treatments, I just stood next to him in the moment.

And sometimes, that’s what a doctor is supposed to do.

By Val Jones, M.D.
Val Jones, M.D., is an award-winning writer and graduate of Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. She is board certified in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation and serves as a traveling physician to hospitals in 14 states. She shares her thoughts about healthcare on her blog at getbetterhealth.com.@drval

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