Loss And Age

Loss And Age


Leonard Zwelling


In the Sunday Review in The New York Times on May 8, author and therapist Gary Greenberg writes about grief and how there seems to be so much collective grief due to Covid, the War in Ukraine, gun violence, the opioid crisis, crime, and a laundry list of other blights on society that has been brought to each of us, whether we want it or not, through social media and television. I think he’s on to something.

I am an inveterate watcher if NBC News with Lester Holt every evening. There is rarely good news. Almost every night there is a depressing Covid update, terrible news from Ukraine, an American government that functions so badly that in lieu of having our elected representatives decide important moral issues, we have ceded that job to nine individuals whose very appointments have been totally politicized. And then there are the mass shootings.

Later in his essay, Greenberg shifts from grief to loss which seems to be two sides of the same coin. And right now virtually everyone is feeling a sense of loss that can translate into grief.

It really doesn’t matter what your political affiliation is, you are feeling loss.

Republicans are still bemoaning Donald Trump’s loss and seem driven by the need to reclaim the White House for him despite the fact that he is way too old for the job (as is the current occupant) and that there are many Republicans who would love to take a run at national office. Trump is also constitutionally and intellectually unfit for the Presidency and, for that matter, so is Biden. It is loss that drives the anger on the right. The right perceives a loss of traditional American values with the rise of immigration, a greater degree of accepted secularism in society, the rise of gay marriage, LGBTQ+ rights and the entire question of transgender kids. Is it any wonder these folks are taking such glee in the overturning of Roe v. Wade? They look at it as a blow for traditional values even if it means more unwanted babies and unsafe abortions.

Democrats are grieving, too. Their hope of leading any sort of Obama take 2 has fallen apart with Mr. Biden’s failed domestic agenda, his scabrous departure from Afghanistan, and a truly horrible economy with 8.3% inflation and now a contracting GDP with rising gas prices and a possible recession. You have to ask as Mr. Applegate (The Devil) did in Damn Yankees, “is anybody happy?” Maybe Jimmy Carter. Next to Biden, his Presidency doesn’t look so bad.

This brings me to my own personal losses of which there are several.

The one that troubles me most and about which I probably have the least data is the state of modern medicine. My encounters with some practitioners have been truly frightening in that they do not appear to have a clue what they are doing and I feel they are undermining the discipline I so dearly love. That is not to say that there are no good doctors. There are many, but it just seems that the state of modern medicine is in turmoil, driven by money, callous insurers and large, greedy corporations. No one is looking out for the patients. I feel this loss profoundly. It gives me grief. After all, now I am a patient.

I am also troubled by the unceasing progression of my own aging. I simply cannot do what I used to find so easy to do. Walking would be one of those things. For an ex-marathon runner to actually hurt going down the stairs is depressing indeed. On the other hand, consider the alternative.

Finally, I look at academic medicine and MD Anderson in particular and am very concerned about what I see. I am still grateful for the fabulous care I get there, but am most troubled by the institutional direction. In short, what is it? I want someone to allay my fear, grief and sense of loss that the greatness of MD Anderson has been in continual decline for the past 20 years due to corruption, conflict of interest, self-serving leadership and a lack of vision.

The good news is that last sense of loss can be fixed. Easily. All it takes is vision and will. I am at a loss to know where these are currently, but what must accompany grief and loss is hope. It’s only human.

I don’t hope my knees will get any better. I am not a fool. I do hope that MD Anderson can find its footing after years of wandering in the strategic wilderness and regain its leadership role in academic oncology.

What, you say? MD Anderson is number one. So says US News and World Report. But how sure are you and what might that say about the state of cancer care in America?

4 thoughts on “Loss And Age”

  1. Generation after generation has suffered various losses and gried. “Life is HARD, but life is GOOD” was a favorite saying of the late Dr Stanley Crawford of Houston. My own sustaining mantra is “If you can’t stand with a bucket of shit over your head and SMILE, you are going to be down and out about a lot of life.”
    What encourages me is the younger generation. We just spent some time at Oxford University with our niece who is finishing her Masters in Environmental Economics. The spirit and cleverness of the young people there, and across many nations, is impressive. They see many of the failures of our generation and are determined to do better in the future. And, I believe that they will.
    The current problems with the economy, government, and medicine are no longer the problems of our generation but of the next, so let’s stand aside and let them lead us in a better direction.

    1. Leonard Zwelling

      I hope you’re right about young people, especially in medicine. It’s all theirs now. LZ

  2. What I find most depressing about the state of medicine today is not only the lack of knowledge among younger clinicians (there is no such thing as a general practitioner anymore; and physical exams are now performed with the patient fully clothed), but the total lack of intellectual curiosity. A difficult diagnosis isn’t viewed as a challenge, but rather as a nuisance that will take up too much time.

    1. Leonard Zwelling

      I tend to agree but I do know some younger docs who are both skilled and curious. The fault here is with the training. It got less and less demanding and that is not the idea of being introduced into a profession. It should be hard. If it is easy, it becomes devalued and good clinical skills are no longer valued by doctors or patients. It’s a shame.

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