Mike Vitez at the Philadelphia Inquirer has done a great story on palliative care at a community hospital. Mike weaves the deeply touching story of Mary Tole, a 74-year-old woman who spent two months in the suburban Philadelphia hospital with an undiagnosed illness. She spent much of that time in an intensive care bed in a coma. 

Mike describes how the hospital’s palliative care team and Mary’s family struggled with how much treatment she should get, or whether she should be allowed to die as comfortably as possible. He also talks about the cost of her care–$775,000–Medicare’s role, and Mary’s out-of-pocket expense: $900.

This piece is an excellent antidote to all the foolishness and misinformation in the debate over “death panels” last summer. There is no more difficult or complex subject than end-of-life care. And Mary and her family still struggle to confront what happened to her, and what they will do when she again faces such a medical crisis.

As individuals, as family caregivers, and as a society, we need to address this issue head-on, and recognize there are no simple answers. Mike’s story helps us do that. 

Congress made a horrible mistake when it allowed itself to be bludgeoned into dropping a provision of health reform that would have allowed Medicare to pay doctors to discuss end-of-life issues with patients.Mary’s story is an example of the price we all pay for not having that conversation.