Do Doctor’s Always Know Everything?

We put so much of our hope in Physicians when it comes to our own health and in the health and well-being of our loved ones. Yet, do they always know everything? Are they always right or are they “practicing” medicine? Do they know when the final day will come for our loved one who is ill, down to the day? Do they know if they are actually coherent or just an empty shell lying there on a bed?

I present to you the story of John McPhee who writes for The New Yorker. John shares a personal story regarding his father, in the last few weeks of his life which appeared in the February 8, 2010 issue of The New Yorker.  Their access policy is as difficult to negotiate as Manhattan traffic, but this is a link to get you started if you want a break from caregiving. 

I don’t think McPhee is famous for depicting emotion, but he conveys his feelings about doctors who practice medicine without empathy. Here goes.

In the piece, John McPhee discusses fishing for chain pickerel and his father’s last days after a stroke that rendered him immobile and speechless.  A young doctor had informed the family that his father could not hear, see, understand, or move and that he would die soon.  He used technical language that only McPhee’s father, a physician, would understand.  The young doctor angered McPhee because of his total lack of tact or sympathy for the family, including his eighty-seven year old mother.

Next day, McPhee was alone in the hospital room with his father for a time.  Uncomfortable with the silence, he began talking about fishing for pickerel, probably telling a story as good as the ones he writes.  He talked about fishing for a pickerel he had been trying to catch for some time with no luck.  With his wife calling impatiently for him, he had tried one last cast in an open space in a lily pad patch.

“The pickerel scored the surface in crossing it, made a solid hit, and took the tight line down, wrapping around the stems of the plants.”

“‘I pulled him out of there plants and all,’ I said. ‘I caught him with your bamboo rod’”.

“I looked closely at my father.  His eyes had welled over.  His face was damp.  Six weeks later, he was dead.” (By Bill October 28th, 2010 from

I believe that while healthcare practitioners are a vital asset to our well-being and add so much to our lives through their expertise, there is still only One who “knows the number of hairs on our heads, and know how many days we have left to live on this planet.

May we take advantage of the days we have left with our loved ones, good times and bad, and live them as if it were their last. When we live with this attitude and mindset, we learn to enjoy the journey, no matter how painful, in good times and in bad, and come through with no regrets.

What are your thoughts and experiences? I’d love to hear them.

About Sue Salach

Sue has a Master's degree in Gerontology and has worked with the elderly and their families for over 30 years and is the Author of "Along Comes Grandpa", a caregiving resource guide, and the novel "If I Walked in Her Shoes". As an ElderCare Expert and Keynote Speaker, Sue employs her comprehensive experience and passion, to educate and promote self-care values to family caregivers and the community at large.
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