Another Reason Why the Health Care Industry Needs Reform

As many of you know who have been reading my blog or know me personally, my wife has been fighting cancer for a little over three years now.  Back in December she was admitted to the hospital due to a severe blockage of her colon by a tumor pressing against it from outside the colon but within the abdomen.  Since she had been getting severe abdominal pains for the last several months, first rather infrequent and not too severe, but increasing in frequency.  We had been scheduled to see her colon doctor the Monday before Thanksgiving, but had to cancel when her father in Pennsylvania collapsed at a restaurant and was taken to the hospital.  He actually was turning blue at the restaurant and would probably have been declared dead right then if not for the help of a good Samaritan named Jim who together with a group of friends ate breakfast there almost every morning.  Jim did not know Sue’s dad, but he jumped up and came over to give him CPR keeping him alive until the paramedics arrived to take him to the hospital.  I wish there were more people like Jim in this world.  Oh, and by the way, if you saw Jim on the street you would think he was just a construction worker or contractor, but that morning, Jim was an angel.

Sue immediately booked a flight to Pennsylvania to be by her Dad’s side.  The prognosis was not good and on Saturday before Thanksgiving, she called me and our daughter Natasha to come up because the hospital would try to keep him alive until we got there.  So we both flew up the Sunday before Thanksgiving and arrived in Allentown about 2 in the afternoon.  Although I grew up in Pennsylvania, I had not been back since 1995.  Everything seemed so strange and new yet with a bit of familiarity.  We got to the hospital a little after 3 and the doctors came by to tell us that his systems were shutting down.  He had a living will that for those of you who do not know what that is means that he made the decision not to be kept alive only on machines.  Resuscitation is one thing, but his wife, Sue’s Mom lived her last 6 months in a hospital with machines keeping her body alive.  That was 24 years ago.  He did not want that for himself and had signed a legal document to that effect.  While they did use machine to keep his body alive until we all got there, it was clear to the doctors that all of his internal systems were shutting down.

At 4:30 they turned off the machines, His breath and pulse, weak on their own started to fail immediately.  Every update on the monitors showed his blood pressure dropping and his breaths coming further apart.  Within a half hour, he passed relatively peacefully.

As sad as the loss of a close relative is, we were grateful for the time he spent with us.  Natasha had always loved her grandfather and had some very nice words to say for his eulogy.  Even though it was Thanksgiving and you might think that we did not have a lot to be thankful for, we were thankful that he did not suffer in the end.  We were thankful that he lived as long as he did to be part of our lives and Natasha’s life.  We are thankful that he was not driving when he collapsed which could have caused an accident injuring someone else.  We are thankful for people like Jim who are ready to help others when they need help, not just with words, but with actions.

Sue managed to get around to for the first several days without any real problems as we made funeral preparations and because cleaning out the house as much as we could.  But by the day of the funeral, we could tell she was not herself because she barely ate anything whenever we stopped for a meal.  By the time we flew back home that Saturday, she asked for assistance at the Charlotte airport to get from one gate to the next as we had to change planes on our trip home to Orlando.  Once back in Orlando, we tried to get her appointment set up as quick as possible with her colon doctor, but because we missed the previously one, they could not squeeze her in until December 7.  During those two week, she ate less and less and even stopped drinking water because of the pain in her abdomen.  We actually lost almost three weeks from her first appointment until the colon doctor could see her.  When she did see her, she immediately signed orders to admit Sue to the hospital.

Sue is still with us, although she is still in the hospital.  She is not able to keep any food or drink down.  They are trying a last ditch shot at chemo to see if they can shrink the tumor that is blocking her colon since they say it is not operable.  We know there are other compatible co-treatments that may help.  One of them is something called hyperthermia.  The localized version of hyperthermia  uses an MRI-like electromagnetic field to heat cancer cells to 107 degrees F causing the cells to produce excess lactic acid and effectively killing the cancer cells.  This treatment has been pioneered by Dr Robert Gorter and is commonly used in Germany, but few places in the United States have begun using it yet.  We did find that Cancer Centers of America do offer this treatment, but our insurance does not allow us to get treatment outside of our state (even if they treatment might save the patient).

Other versions of hyperthermia include regional and full-body.  The full-body version heats the body using infrared radiation to about 101-102 degrees F to induce a mild-fever.  This fever activates the immune system doubling its effectiveness.  It is the immune system that identifies foreign bodies like bacteria and viruses in our bodies to keep us healthy.  It also normally keeps the cancer cells that all of our bodies produce each and every day from growing out of control.  The theory being that by kick-starting the immune system, it might help to fight the existing tumors.

Other treatments include the use of dendritic cells, intravenous vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and glandular extracts.

But the problems is while Anderson is using some of these treatments such as hyperthermia in the Houston location (again out of state for us), they do not offer it locally. Why?  At this point, we would be willing to sign a legal document stating that we would not sue Anderson if the treatment fails as long as they would be willing to try it.  But even more to the point, together with chemo, hyperthermia treatment offers less risk to the patient that the chemo itself.  It is not a replacement for chemo (at least not at this time), but is used in conjunction with it.  At most, hyperthermia is mildly uncomfortable and could result in a few hours of flu-like symptoms, but no real toxicity.  We are at a point where not doing anything is essentially a guaranteed death sentence especially because of the blocked colon.  It has seemed over the last several weeks as we have explored the possibility of different options and each time we find something that may give us hope, our hopes have been dashed against the rocks.