Each place has its way of doing things and when people from different cultures intersect there may be clashes and discord. Some cultures will under-treat, and others will over-treat. Where will Goldilocks feel most comfortable? Too much of a good thing isn’t always a good thing. The most expensive treatments aren’t always the most effective.
Inequity pervades the world. NZ-trained doctors who have traveled back to Asia may be shocked that people with non-survivable strokes are kept on life support for weeks or even months as standard practice. Their relatives with end-stage dementia are fed via tubes and the quantity of life may be prolonged for lengthy periods, of up to years. This does not always come with any discernible quality of life benefits.
People may be from healthcare cultures in which the patient and family can have whatever they desire if they can pay for it. This can include experimental therapies with or without scientific bases. Desperation can lead to high sales figures but is there any care in those types of healthcare? People search all points of the compass but do they find any compassion? Expectations are set but people do not become settled. When time is of the essence is it correct to waste it without people’s informed assent?
My usual approach to complementary or alternative therapies is to try to keep an open mind. A lot of treatments do not have much evidence-backing but can be important to the people wanting to try them. A lot of the patients I see have exhausted all that Western medicine has to offer, thus they seek alternatives. Some of these treatments may be expensive in financial and other costs. I am supportive of a patient’s right to choose whatever treatment they want. If it makes them feel better, who am I to judge?
I do draw the line if an alternative treatment is causing harm. First do no harm is the first concept they taught us in medical school, but it is not a concept taught in all therapy schools. Rarely have I directly intervened when it comes to my patients receiving complementary or alternative treatments, but that does not mean that I would not do so.
In his professional life he was used to taking charge, of taking control and at times this bled into his personal life as well. His wife’s mother was unwell with widely spread cancer, she had been admitted into the hospice for symptom control of pain, breathlessness, and nausea. He had always been close to her right from their first meeting, he was probably closer to her than he was to his own parents, and even called her Mum. She had always been there for her children and their partners, and he really wanted to be there for her. He wanted to make sure that she was treated right, and he had a small inkling that his manner might come across as intimidating, but that was useful in police work. He just wanted to make sure that Mum was being well looked after, it was what she deserved.
She was a Pasifika lady in her early 60s, with end-stage cancer to her liver, lungs, and many bones. She was the frailest patient in our inpatient unit and I was worried that she might be dying. She was well cared for by her family who were always with her. Her husband of similar age, two daughters and a son-in-law, who I found out was a police officer. He had already caused a bit of a disturbance in the unit as he had spoken in an aggressive manner to some of our nurses, and was impatient. The family were all tired, worried about our patient, and stress levels were high. The family members all seemed to defer to the policeman who had taken on the role of family spokesman. The patient was fatigued but had not slept much in the past days because of uncontrolled pain. The first time I saw her I thought to myself that I wouldn’t be surprised if she crashes quickly.