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Saturday, September 6, 2014

The Old Man's Friend


A guest was coughing and feverish, and I heard crackling noises, a sign of fluid, when I listened to his lungs. I suspected pneumonia.

I prefer diagnosing pneumonia to an upper respiratory infection because I can prescribe an antibiotic and skip the stressful explanation of why I’m not prescribing an antibiotic.

Unfortunately, this guest was 85. Most victims of pneumonia don’t need to be hospitalized. Even without treatment, most recover. This is not the case with the elderly where, long ago, pneumonia was known as “the old man’s friend.” Dying of pneumonia when you’re already feeble is apparently not a bad way to go.

The son did not like hearing that his father must go to an emergency room, but they went. When I phoned the following morning, I learned that the diagnosis was pneumonia. The doctor had prescribed an antibiotic and sent them out.

I was shocked. Hospitals always admitted elderly patients with pneumonia. What incompetent was on duty?...  Answering my concerns, the son assured me that his father was resting comfortably and promised to return to the hospital if symptoms worsened. When I called that evening and the following day, he repeated his assurances that his father was resting comfortably. That afternoon they had checked out.

If something bad happens, he will sue the hospital, but he will also sue me. It takes a long time for a malpractice lawyer to organize a suit, so his letter wouldn’t arrive for about a year.

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