The topic of America’s fiscal future as a topic is a departure for me, for sure, but this post is writing related. The power of Hollywood, especially series television, but also film, is the most important factor in American culture. No kidding! Generations of moms name their babies after popular characters, for instance.
In American television and film, doctors invariably are able to work miracles. Patients die and are brought back with CPR, and so everyone these days is urged to take CPR training. No one on television has broken ribs from the procedure, which is common in real life, and almost everyone coughs a couple of times and is good as new by the next commercial break. But, in real life, most such heroic efforts are in vain. Hollywood thrives on heros and heroism, so extreme measures are rewarded.
However, in real life (and death) most folks who are at death’s door are going to go through it. One out of one persons on this planet will die. Most doctors, who do know the truth, will not take cancer treatments for late-stage disease. They don’t, because they have seen “good” deaths and “bad” ones, and they want to avoid the latter. But family members, brainwashed by the success rate of heroic doctors on the screen, often insist on the latest treatments for family members, even when the pathetic success rate is clearly stated. These acts of love, which often cause patients to be miserable because of side effects of chemotherapy, radiation, or surgery, cost millions of dollars. Few lives are saved, and if they are lengthened, it might be for months, at best. The most expensive years of life, for many Americans, are the last two.
My husband is a cancer survivor. His illness was treatable; that is, his doctor stated that with treatment, he had an 85-90% chance of living out his normal life. Thus, the treatments, which were grueling, were appropriate. I am not speaking of that scenario. Plenty of people are cured or helped by treatments, but side effects and outcomes need to be discussed frankly.
But, because Hollywood’s fictional doctors can cure even the most hopeless of patients, many Americans have totally unrealistic expectations. And, since our doctors, the real ones, are paid for performing services, the money flows from insurance companies, especially the ones funded by the U.S. Treasury, into their accounts. Doctors are trained to preserve life, and are paid for procedures, so they have incentives to continue aggressive treatments, and well-meaning family members can add more incentives. No one wants to say, “It is time to let go.”
Please, script writers and producers, lets have a new wave of handsome, dignified actors “go gently into that goodnight.” This dose of realism would greatly help families avert feelings of guilt for not doing enough for their loved ones, and it would also save patients from the miserable deaths associated with vigorous treatments. A serendipitous side effect of the Hollywood treatment would be a vast reduction in medicare and medicaid bills for those who are going to die, and die soon, anyway.
Be courageous, Hollywood, and write about death and dying in a manner that is more realistic and, ultimately, more kind.