A pediatrician's heartfelt request to fix health care

Editor's note: Marion Mass, a pediatrician in the Philadelphia suburbs, is co-founder of a new advocacy group, Practicing Physicians of America. Here is part of a keynote she delivered in Washington, D.C., at the Library of Congress before an audience of lawmakers and physician leaders, sponsored by U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa.

The patients of America remain confused and cowed by the cost of healthcare. Lawmakers, vilified by the press and public, seem suspended in inaction.  At this critical point, America’s medical system must be healed responsibly, transparently in a trans-partisan manner, to the benefit of all Americans. 

Join me, early one morning 20 years ago, when I was far less experienced as a physician, but already had the  heart of a healer.  Names have been changed to protect privacy. 

It was 2 a.m., and after trying CPR and multiple rounds of epinephrine to revive our tiny patient, we had to call the code. 

I crept across the open ward and found 11- year-old Kenya lying behind a curtain, crying and, in her anxiety, over-breathing her ventilator. For weeks she had been waiting for a heart transplant, and could not speak because of the ventilator. I learned to read her eyes, and saw she understood that just paces away a child had died. I squeezed her hand. 

Her parents came each day, full of hope, to read Kenya letters from friends and family. As the days of waiting dragged on, Kenya’s only “field trips” were visits to the CT scanner.  On one trip,  her breathing tube dislodged, but Kenya was too weak to even grab at her throat. 

Barely out of internship, all I could do was push the code button and pray while Kenya's eyes, locked on mine, registered the pure fear of death.  

The code team arrived quickly and saved Kenya another day to wait for her miracle. 

 •••

This is medicine. The greatest gift of a beautiful profession is to hold the hands of patients like Kenya, whose grace still takes my breath away. I share this story to refocus you on our nation's need for health care, just as our code team focused on the needs of Kenya. 

For years, physicians have not had a unified voice of American healers who speak responsibly for patients and doctors.  The Practicing Physicians of America represents  thousands of  well informed doctors in the service of our patients, and our profession. We have access to tens of thousands more, who want to inform our patients how the system works.  

 

 

 

The heart Kenya needed did not come in time to save her. On a cold April Day, the machines were turned off.  “Kenya has the only heart not hurting now, ” one physician in the room said, speaking for every healer in that room. Because as so often happens in medicine, our patients become a part of us forever.

Medicine is personal.  It is not about a repeal, a replace, a certification, a box we are forced to check.  All of us are patients, and will someday walk the path of death, or hold the hand of a loved one who does.  Who do you want as your healer guiding you?  An administrator?  A  big donor?  Or someone who chose the path of learning to heal? 

We have studied the system for years, and can inform the public why healthcare’s quality has declined and its cost has increased. To tell you of the special interests and impediments that stand in the way of better health for all.    We are offering our help to policy shapers….for free, bound to serve first our beloved patients. 

Lawmakers, please serve the public that elected you, the Constitution you swore to defend, and not the almighty dollar. Please transplant the heart back into healthcare. 

Marion Mass, M.D., can be reached at marion@practicingphysicians.org.


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