How Long Have I Got Left?
Paul Kalinthi, a 36 year old neurosurgery resident, was diagnosed with cancer. Even as he describes an overwhelming desire to know what his chances are for recovery, he recognizes how imprecise the statistics can be in a rapidly changing medical research field and how quickly they can become out of date.
Our quest for information, regardless of how inaccurate, speaks to the vulnerability we experience when told we may have a serious or fatal disease. Psychologically, we are likely to latch onto the “survival” rate rather than the death rate because it is less uncomfortable. If we are asked to focus on the probability of death, we are inclined to avoid it. This is in part our “drive to survive” and is well illustrated in this article.
The author quotes a very wise comment from his oncologist as he attempts to gain reassurance which his doctor is reluctant to provide. When he asked how long he has to live, she replies, “I can’t tell you a time. You’ve got to find out what matters to you.” Based on that response, he elected to pursue a passion – writing
Dr. Kalinthi did not survive his cancer. His wife published a posthumous memoir he had written entitled WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR – a beautifully written book.
The article provokes some important questions…
1. If you are ill, what probabilities would influence you to not seek treatment? You might consider quality of life, side effects of treatment, cost, impact on family, loss of dignity, your age, etc.
2. Despite the suggestion that we be wary of the accuracy of “probabilities” do you have a sense of what you would ask your medical proxy to do if you were unconscious and the probability of recovery was 5%? 25%? Or 50%?
3. If you have had a previous experience with this dilemma with a friend or relative, does it influence how you think about it now?
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