DR. HOOK- Family circus: Kids need to help when folks fail

"We Are Family, I got all my sisters with me. Get up everybody and sing!" 

Go, Sister Sledge! (But where are they now?) 

Family is something so powerful, so encompassing, so– ah, complicated. The Partridge Family never had major conflict even though the show started with the death of Mr. Partridge. Wait a minute, even on The Brady Bunch, both Carol and Mike appeared to be widowed. Oh, God! The Courtship of Eddie's Father was based on the death of Eddie's mother. Oh, no! The Andy Griffith Show, My Three Sons, Eight is Enough, Family Affair– all were based on losing a parent and spouse. Jody! Buffy! Cissy! 

You know, I never realized all of these favorite shows of mine were based on a beloved family member passing away. They are all comedies, so I never really focused on the fact that the kids were missing a parent. Talk about a Parent Trap! But these shows demonstrate that family members stick together and move on. But do family members really stick together until the end?

I joke that I don't get older, I just get gooder. But the reality is that if I ever get to be elderly, I don't know who is going to take care of me should I fall ill with dementia or cancer. (I definitely don't want Anna Nicole Smith's mother or Britney Spears to take over my care.) I have my advanced directives, power of attorney, etc. already taken care of at my tender age of 40, but who know what lies ahead?

Some of my toughest cases with patient care deal with elderly folk who are estranged— or worse yet, don't acknowledge they are estranged– from immediate family members. 

Patient: "Doc, I leave my kids alone, and they respect my privacy as well." 

Doctor: "When was the last time you talked to them?"

P: "Childbirth."

D: "Don't you think you should let them know you're in trouble with your health and can't live alone anymore?"

P: "I can take care of myself. Now can you do my groceries for me and get my laundry done? I'm hungry and I smell bad."

Sometimes these types of patients won't even let me call their kids or other immediate family members, so I have to act like Rosanne Barr (i.e. nag, nag, nag) to convince them that I need to speak to family. Unfortunately, some people don't have any immediate family.

In our lovely world of dysfunctional families, I sometimes regret being able to talk to the kids. I once had a demented and dangerous patient who needed to go to a nursing home, and the son did everything but buy his parent an AK-47 and anthrax. He could not accept his parent was ill and did everything possible to ignore medical advice.

I have had quite a few kids of patients act like Lindsay Lohan when I've been on the phone with them. 

D: "I'm sorry to tell you that your mother is on a ventilation machine and is not doing well." 

Child: "Cool, so things are going well?" 

D: "No, things aren't going well. I think you should come here now because things are going poorly." 

C: "I'm so glad you're doing everything you can to help Mum. You're awesome." 

D: "Ah, do you understand what I am saying? Your mom may not be around much longer." 

C: "You can email me on the cruise ship when Mum's better. Isn't it great what modern technology allows us to do?"

Maybe I'll open up a new business, "Rent a Child," for those in need of a healthy thinking (i.e. sane) adult child who can step in when needed. All my employees will be well-versed in The Brady Bunch and The Andy Griffith Show.


1 comment

I read in Sociology 101 about how aboriginal tribes would go and bury the senior citizens up to a certain level, and if they could manage to get out they could come back and live with the tribe, but if they couldn't manage to get out, they couldn't come back and live with the tribe.