Solving for Today

Posted on: Thu, 03/16/2023 - 18:04 By: journeyadmin
Sunrise over slow breaking ocean waves - watercolour


Solving is all about logic and mathematics. I have had a traumatic relationship with mathematics all my life.  I had no problem with   arithmetic but I squeaked out of university calculus with 53%. The only good thing about that was that I knew I had gotten it myself. it had been 51% I would have always wondered.

When I went back for my MBA (Masters in Business Administration) I spent time relearning basic algebra to improve my admissions test score.  In six weeks I fell in love with mathematics. My statistics and economics classes gave me a different way of understanding the world by finding patterns that aren't immediately obvious.  Later I taught high school mathematics teacher for a year and had the joy of introducing students to those ideas. I got the feeling that maybe math wasn't so difficult (for me at least.)

But when I heard the phrase, "solving for today" it summed up so much of what I do these days. I do not put things very far out on my calendar. Furthest out right now is the CCRA (Canadian Cancer Research Alliance) conference in November. My focus is on each day, living in the present. A close friend told me that I'm very organized and I do a great deal. A glance at my calendar and I'm surprised by the events that lie ahead of me each day.

I have been working my way through the issues around MAiD (Medical Assistance in Dying) for the past few weeks. About a year ago I was asked to provide a patient perspective on a paper looking at lung cancer patients and MAID. ( I have had off and on again discussions over the years, as well. I came from a conservative church background where assisted suicide/euthanasia is considered morally wrong - God is considered the final arbiter of when someone should die.

The Canadian government slowed down its roll on MAiD recently and that has sparked a lot of controversy. One of the largest emerging concerns is that it is being used in place of help for "complex" or "difficult" patients. Like a cork bobbing along a stream, for me this was largely an academic debate. Clearly there was some hype happening on both sides of the debate. Then, it got personal.

An acquaintance of many years popped up on social media under the hashtag #FaceOfMAiD. Her father taught me microbial genetics. I met her about fifteen years ago in the Drupal software community. I knew that she had complex medical concerns and that she had had trouble getting an adequate diagnosis but that her case had gone this far was troubling. Over the past week a searing - at least in my mind - indictment of the medical system in British Columbia has emerged. Put simply, she was approved for MAiD but denied palliative care because she is not dying. That just does not make sense.

For someone who spends a lot of time with patients with a serious cancer diagnosis this is a shocking story but not surprising. It comes down to a crumbling medical system. We do not have the capacity to get expertise and help to patients who need it. I am involved with a couple of patients who are struggling to get the care they need in a system that simply doesn't work.

I have been calling myself a health activist; advocating for patients who don't speak for themselves is what I do. But this situation has me running for cover. Being labelled "difficult" or "complex" has me thinking of the the long running TV show "House MD" The logline for the show is simple; "An antisocial maverick doctor who specializes in diagnostic medicine does whatever it takes to solve puzzling cases that come his way. He uses his crack team of doctors and his wits." The character tackled the patients that others left behind, the patients with obscure or rare conditions, all the while struggling with his own demons. That heroism and humanity seems to be missing in our current health care system. The compassion and care that we set as the high ideal for medicine seems to be lacking.

Back to that "fragility of life thing". One of the lessons that I have learned is to be present in each moment. There is a saying; "The past is gone forever and the future isn't here yet so enjoy today." And thus, "Solving for Today."

In the midst of this I'm doing well - physically. Mentally and emotionally is another story. Watching acquaintances who have become friends, some closer than others, making preparations to die is hard.

A lady in church made a note about a hymn - "for my memorial service" and we laughed. She is in the last stages of breast and pancreatic cancer.

I got a phone call from another friend - "I'm moving to hospice. I can't be in my home any more." A week later she died.

I got a text from another one: "Recent events in our support group have made me aware of my priorities. I need to spend time with my child."  Unspoken in the message but very present - her mortality.

I write and think. Maybe it is the thinking that I should give up.  I suffer survivor guilt. I am reading "This is Assisted Dying" by Dr Stephanie Green, President of CAMAP (Canadian Association of MAiD Assesors and Providers.) The book has made me aware of many aspects of the reality of death that I had lightly glossed over. As a society we don't talk about death easily. We tend to associate death with pain and suffering. Yet often death isn't painful for the one experiencing it, only for those observing it, and being left behind to feel it.

How does that Buddhist tenet go? "Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional."

There is no denying the many benefits and advances of technology. We need to see the potential negative impact it can have on our physical and mental well-being, social relationships, and privacy. There is a point where the suffering becomes unbearable. Where that point is different for each of us. MAiD is a compassionate option for those who are suffering and wish to end their lives.

However, I fear that MAiD may be used in place of providing adequate assistance and support to patients. We must strike a balance between denying MAiD when life can be improved and granting individuals access to MAiD when they choose it. On one hand, failing to find a balance leads to patients turning to other means if it is not available, which ultimately results in greater harm and suffering. Or people dying unnecessarily from the inappropriate use of MAiD.  On the other hand, we need to ensure that folks receive the necessary support and care to manage their conditions and improve their quality of life, if that is their choice.

Therefore, policymakers and healthcare providers must work together. We need to ensure that all patients receive the compassionate care and support they need while respecting their autonomy and individual choices. I want to be an advocate for better care for patients, supporting those who are facing end-of-life issues, and living each day with purpose and intention. We make a difference by embracing the lessons of the present and striving to create a brighter future.

Much like Martin Luther King, I have a dream that "solving for today" will become a reality in the lives of all individuals who are struggling with the challenges of the medical system and the fragility of life.