Health Care?

(Note: This is first person to make a point. It is based on my observations of treatment and the views expressed by the many cancer patients I have seen through their final days. Our system is barbaric, insulting and demeaning, and needs to change. Cancer will never be “cured” under our current cutthroat capitalist system so long as it can be treated and humans are willing to stand in for lab rats, nor will most other debilitating diseases. Treatment is not a bad thing, but the ethics of American medical care at death’s edge are largely disgusting and we need to talk about it as a society.)


I’d like to be allowed to die, please.

Yes. I know. You’re supposed to want to live. But life is no longer rewarding, and not because I’m a lovesick teenager, and not because I don’t have good benefits, and not for any other normal reason that might cross your mind.

I’d like to die because I have a terminal disease and I’ve been in pain and have been suffering for three years now. I was a “cancer survivor” for 10 years, but it came back and I’m going to lose my title. I can’t lose it fast enough.  But I was taught to trust doctors, and they keep telling me about the next thing.

I now know the next thing won’t save me. It may prolong my death, but probably not more than a few weeks or months. It won’t help me enjoy life more. I am already taking enough opiates to knock down a hippo, and even if they cured my cancer, my drug habit would kill me.

But they’re not going to cure my cancer. When your skeleton is gone, they’re pretty much lost.  So they’re going to harvest my benefits to the best of their ability, and boy are they able.

I have stage 4 metastatic cancer to the bone. It’s everywhere, head to toe. I’ve had this operation and that operation to beat it back, but it’s like the Patriots’ offense; it just keeps coming. 41 days of radiation helped with the pain, but it’s still there, like a mean friend.

But what do my doctors see? It’s not like I have rich private health insurance. I ate that up years ago, along with any money my family ever had, because I had the misfortune to be mentally ill in the Shining City on the Hill.  Instant insolvency for most families who care.

I now have Medicare disability and my state medicaid and I was lucky to get it before you were an automatic total scumbag for needing help.  As much as the medical community complain about the limits, they harvest the hell out of what’s there. They know I’m dying. I know I’m dying. Hell, anyone who looks at me knows I’m dying. But until I shuffle off to the crematorium, I’m a frigging cash cow.

And people wonder why Medicare is in trouble. Of course, most people are incapable of observing and thinking, so why am I surprised?

A year ago, I was told I’d be lucky to be alive in 18 months. But I have a primary care physician who sees me every month and does a blood test. I have an oncologist who sees me every week and does a blood test. I have a cardiologist who sees me every 3 months and does a blood test.  I have a gastroenterologist who does blood tests. I have as many as 5 blood tests a month.* You’d think they could talk to each other.  Share the test results. But no.

I probably should disclose that I also have a psychiatrist. He doesn’t usually do blood tests, but every month he has me fill out a form, asks me if I want to kill myself or anyone else, and writes me a couple of prescriptions. His ten minutes with me every 2 months means everything in the world to me. But I guess because I’m crazy I can’t get away with wanting to die. I tried to give my medical decisions to someone else, but I can’t get them to kill me either.

Prescriptions. I am the drug industry’s brightest hope. Because I have a disability, I qualify for extra help. This is not a bad thing. It is an abused thing. It’s not abused by the patients like me. It’s abused by the drug companies and pharmacies. It’s yet another secret subsidy to corporate America that they access through the back door by abusing programs designed for good.

It’s in the way the doctors abuse the system. They’re not going to save my life. Not with treatment. Not with prayer. Not with magic beans. I am a close to an ex person as you can get and still talk.

I mean, I have a DNR  which I basically had to beg for, because I really don’t want to be revived to undergo more experimentation.   I’m already a living, breathing, walking science experiment.  Does this therapy work, does that drug work, will this procedure help? I don’t get the point. I AM DYING PEOPLE.  I don’t even own a white coat and I can figure that out.

They’re not going to save my life. They aren’t making it any better. Longer, yes. So I can lie in a room in pain for 18 hours a day. So I can generate income for doctors and nurses and home health care folks and hospitals?  You people do a lot of great things, but pay attention to the folks who have a shot, why don’t you?

You want to know why health care costs so much? Why insurance is so high? Why Medicare will fail? It’s because of people like me. Not that we’re doing anything other than what we’re told will make us feel better, live longer, enjoy a higher quality of life.

Because we love vomiting and diarrhea and constipation and gas pains and bone pains and body pains that go on and on, and we love taking medicines that turn us into brick bookends who can’t concentrate, or speak coherently or think in a straight line. Hell, it’s just like the 60s, only without the sex and the music.

You see, we believe in doctors and medicine and science. We didn’t know that it’s about referrals and billing codes and procedures, we thought it was about caring and seeing a patient.  But we’re just a case.

Doctors love to bitch about how little they’re appreciated and how under-compensated they are. Nobody ever hears the patient.

One thing. I’d like my doctors to kiss me before I die. I always felt you should be kissed when you were being f**ked.


*It gets even sillier, but you’d never believe it unless you went through it.

Waiting photo: licensed by on
Glenn Overman

Glenn Overman

Glenn Overman doesn't share much personal information not because he doesn't like or trust you personally, but because some of those people reading over your shoulder are just whacked. He's been everywhere, but he lives in NE FL and is fond of saying, "It's not the heat, it's the stupidity."

  1. You’re describing one of the flavors of human husbandry–industrial medical care.  The only solution is for people to stay home, not go to doctors and sign up with hospice for palliative care.
    However, when people get to that stage, they’re usually not competent to make those decisions.  So, advanced directives have to be set up while people are still healthy. In the prairie states, people plan ahead for tornadoes by building shelters in basements.  Man-made disasters also have to be prepared for.
    It is actually useful to the profession for them to have some live guinea pigs to practice on, but the victim should determine when enough is enough.
    Americans pay too much attention to death and not enough to torture.  There are some things worse than death.  “Less than lethal” is not better.

  2. Michael Castengera

    Don’t do this again.  Misleading the reader by pretending to be a first person account is disrespectful to the reader and disrespectful to those people who actually are suffering through a life-destroying cancer.  This was a commentary and should have been written as such.  At the very least, the disclaimer at the end should have been at the beginning.  Then the reader could determine if they wanted to read the pseudo personal statement

    1. Glenn Overman

      My intention was not to mislead anyone, and many of the attitudes expressed have been expressed to me, including the “humor”. And yes, I am making a point, but no trickery is intended. Your points are cogent and well taken. The disclaimer has been moved to the article’s beginning. I have immense respect for people who are suffering through cancer; unfortunately their suffering is frequently the least respected issue in the process.

    2. Lee Leslie

      Thank you, Michael. After discussion with Glenn, you and the LTD team, we have revised the story with the acknowledgement at the top. Per Glenn when instructing me to revise the post, “My intention was not to mislead anyone, and many of the attitudes expressed have been expressed to me. And yes, I am making a point, but no trickery is intended.”

      Plus, a comment to other readers: We need your input. When you see something you disagree with as Michael did, please speak up. We are short handed and too often miss something that is or could be important. Please let us know.

  3. What can I say? From those of us on the outside, it is a courageous story by an immensely talented and skilled writer, but I suspect that you are just telling it as it really is. Those who speak of death panels, no not how confronting the real life and death needs for our society to come to turns with a dignified death and individual’s rights to do so. The money we spend to prolong the suffering is where we are as a people and a sad commentary on our ability to allow mercy. Thank you – and I really mean that – for sharing this. A must read. 

  4. Observation with thought? The truth of a system that is squashing the rest of the economy by sucking any money generated into its maw.

  5. It’s called “hope.” My mother went through just what you described and it was her choice to do so, even though the radiation technician missed the spot, even though she had to sit for hours in waiting rooms (pre-smartphone era), even though she vomited more than a body could endure and suffered pain that no one deserves. She carried through even when the inevitable was obvious because hope was all she had left to cling to.

    When my time comes, I hope I remember not to be tortured by hope, but to cling to everything that ever made me grateful. Thanks, Glenn

  6. I disagree with a lot of your posts and of others here, but on this, I am in complete agreement.  We have to have a way to let people  die with dignity and with our blessings without losing our humanity.  Thanks for putting into words for me thoughts that I could only feel.

    1. Glenn Overman

      Thanks for chiming in. It’s good we can agree and disagree, because without conversation there is never forward motion. 

  7. Thank you on behalf of my father, friends, and those whose voices are not as strong and clear while dealing with cancer.

  8. Frank Povah

    Michael: Sorry, I think you’re talking through your hat.  (Please note that I denotes a personal opinion: mine; not the editor’s; not the moderator’s nor anyone else’s.) The intent was patently obvious after the shock of the intro had worn off – I didn’t read the disclaimer, I always leave them till last anyway. Did it shock you too much? I was knock, knock, knockin’ at death’s door for a little while not long ago and though I’m glad to be alive and well – though probably a slave to drugs for what remains of my life – but the attitude of most of the medical industry appalls me. Bill summaries keep turning up with unexplained charges for services from doctors I’ve never heard of and certainly don’t remember seeing; itemized lists of materials used in my treatment include what seem to me exorbitant charges for everyday items; the cost of keeping me waiting on oxygen in a hospital room for about six hours until a bed and team became available at a hospital in the next town (no surgeon was available at that particular hospital) was about triple that of the surgical team that performed life-saving, radical surgery; and it goes on and on. I shudder to think how long it might have dragged on if that door had opened! 

    Glenn, well put and pertinent. Especially given that I watched “Sicko” the other night.

  9. Bravo. Whether this was first person or total fiction, in my opinion it is spot on. I have watched it happen, and continue to watch a dear one experience it today. It it is horrific, confusing and agonizing for her, or what’s left of her after all the “treatment” and drug side effects. You have expressed ideas that are usually conversation-stoppers, and result in scary stares. Thank you.

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