The Miracles and Limitations of Modern Health Care

My wife and I spent yesterday at Brenner Children's Hospital in Winston-Salem with our youngest son. Our son has been dealing with a condition called supraventricular tachycardia (SVT), which in layman's terms means his heart will sometimes beat really fast – like 200 beats-per-minute fast – for extended periods of time even if he's sitting still. He was in the hospital for a procedure called a cardiac ablation which, if successful, would prevent these episodes from happening in the future.

The way the ablation was explained to us is that the doctor would send catheters through major veins in the legs to our son's heart and, depending on where in the heart the problem was, either burn or freeze the part of the heart that was causing it to go into this abnormal rhythm. Our son would be put under general anesthesia for the procedure and it would likely take about four hours. They would provoke his heart into going "wonky" (that's our technical term for it), identify the problem area, treat it and then observe it for a period of time to make sure they got all of it. If they needed to they'd freeze or burn more spots until they had the problem area taken care of.

Here's the really amazing part: if all went as planned we'd have our son back home the same day and he'd be under orders to take it easy for four days, not lift anything heavy for about a week, and then he'd be back to normal. To us this was truly a miracle of modern medicine – our son would have a heart procedure as outpatient surgery!

Thankfully all went as planned and we had our son home last night. Truly amazing.

Unfortunately modern medicine also has its limitations. While we were in the waiting room during our son's surgery a doctor came out and met with a mother and grandmother waiting near us. It was very early in the morning and most of the folks in the waiting area were asleep, thus it was pretty quiet. We tried our best not to eavesdrop, but it was impossible not to hear pieces of what the doctor was telling the mother – that her child did indeed have some rare, malignant cancer. It was also impossible not to hear the mother's crying and her mother trying to console her. And quite frankly it was impossible not to break down ourselves once they left – I haven't cried in public since I was a child, and I'm not ashamed to say that I just couldn't hold it together. I can't imagine going through what that family is going through right now.

Right now our country is dealing with a lot of change in our health care system thanks in large part to the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare. There's (rightfully) a lot of discussion about how our health care system and the related health insurance industry work. The debate often focuses on cost and on whether or not we're moving towards a system of "socialized" medicine similar to Canada's or the UK's, and if we are, whether that will lead to a stall in medical advances that have led to every day "miracles" like what our family experienced.

Those are all worthy discussion points, but after yesterday all I could think was this: when it's your child in the operating room you really don't care how expensive the procedure is, you just want him to have whatever it takes to make him well. I would gladly live in a cardboard box in order not to have to hear what that poor mother next to us heard. Whatever we do I hope we continue to work towards making sure that fewer and fewer parents have to hear that their child doesn't have a miracle available to them at any price.

2 thoughts on “The Miracles and Limitations of Modern Health Care

  1. Doug Grimes

    A neighbor of ours is a pediatric oncologist. I can’t imagine how tough that job must be when it involves delivering devastating news to a family of a child and yet so rewarding when good news is delivered. I wonder often about how he copes with these two extremes and also the other extreme of not being able to really know or assure the family what the long-term outcome may be. Outwardly he seems happy but you never know what is being held inside.
    I hope all goes well with your son and your family. Wishing for the best possible Christmas gift, good health and happiness to you and yours.

  2. Jon Lowder

    Im with you Doug. Ive heard people say they just have to turn off their emotions when they go to work, but its very hard to imagine being able to do it. I guess its one of those things that you either have it or you dont.
    Our son is doing very well and it seems that hes well on his way to a good result. 
    Wishing good health and happiness to you and yours for Christmas as well!


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