Compassionate Caregivers

A break from health care costs for an evening.

Tonight was the annual dinner of the Kenneth Schwartz CenterKenneth Schwartz  was a health care lawyer who died 14 years ago of lung cancer at the age of 42. (We’re reminded that his was a cancer not associated with smoking – but of course a 42 year old smoker dying of lung cancer is a profound tragedy, too) His wish was to endow a foundation to train doctors, nurses, and other health care providers to be more compassionate in their care, and his friends and family have made the Schwartz Center an invaluable community resource to improve patient-centered care.   The Center runs Schwartz Rounds, usually with a patient and a caregiver, at over 150 hospitals across the US, runs an intense pastoral training program for clinicians, and gives grants to health care organizations to encourage more compassionate care.

One of the speakers tonight, guitarist and composer Jason Crigler,  had a devastating stroke from a burst brain blood vessel in his early 20s when his his wife was pregnant with their first child.    He awoke 1 ½ years later a gaunt shadow of himself, unable to move one side of his body, the fingers of his left hand contracted in a flexed position.   He spoke passionately about the care he received at the Spaulding Rehab Center – and his wife talked about the contrasting clinicians at a hospital in New York who talked around him, and framed his life in past tense.   Jason regained his weight and is a rehabilitation success story – he sang and played his guitar for us to a standing ovation.  He saluted his compassionate caregivers who believed in him, and who helped him return his life and his musical career to the present tense.

Jason Crigler’s tale is a reminder that we don’t need compassionate care only at the end of life. It’s also a reminder that any of us can make the painful journey from health to severe illness in an instant.  We want and need a robust health care system to minister to us.   We want advanced technology and new drugs and fancy imaging equipment (and all of that was critical to Jason Crigler’s recovery).  But we also want, and need, the human touch.   It’s easy to overlook the importance of the human touch in academic discussions of health care inflation.