Of all the pieces that have been written in the last year, there are few that convey the cosmic heft of American health care while also having an emotional impact that isn’t saccharine, partisan, annoyingly anecdotal or all three. Atul Gawande’s iconic New Yorker piece on McAllen, Texas, from last June is one example, and David Goldhill’s “How American Health Care Killed My Father” from September’s Atlantic is another.
But much more quietly, a Bloomberg piece this week is a third.
Bloomberg editor Amanda Bennett, formerly The Philadelphia Inquirer‘s chief, wrote a stunning 4,800-word essay about her husband of 20 years, Terence Bryan Foley—”father of our two teenagers, a Chinese historian who earned his Ph.D. in his 60s, a man who played more than 15 musical instruments and spoke six languages, a San Francisco cable car conductor and sports photographer, an expert on dairy cattle and swine nutrition, film noir and Dixieland jazz.”
After fighting kidney cancer for six years, he died a few days before Christmas in 2007.
Her article is a chronicle of his illness, his fight against it and the cost of both—well over half a million dollars. “The bills totaled $618,616, almost two-thirds of it for the final 24 months, much of it for treatments that no one can say for sure helped extend his life. In just the last four days of trying to keep him alive—two in intensive care, two in a cancer ward—our insurance was charged $43,711 for doctors, medicines, monitors, X-rays and scans. Two years later, the only thing I know for certain that money bought was confirmation that he was dying.”
Part of what makes the piece so wonderful, besides the fact that it’s heartbreakingly moving, is that Ms. Bennett tells the story without any righteousness or preaching. She lets her readers draw their own conclusions.
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