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Does Nelson Mandela Need a Nurse?

He would if he were in the U.S.

Nelson Mandela in 200
Nelson Mandela in 200

You may have heard that former South African president Nelson Mandela was admitted to the hospital to treat a chronic lung infection. This is the second time he has been admitted this year.

Hospitals are dangerous places. They are full of infectious germs and high-tech machines and tests. In the U.S., it’s common practice to treat a 94-year-old patient the same way a 45-year-old is treated, with the same tests and procedures.

But many elderly people do not benefit from this kind of overzealous treatment. Performing a cancer biopsy on a 90-year-old can cause more problems than it solves by harming the integrity of fragile skin and disrupting the body’s processes. And if cancer is found, then what? If this person is in fragile health, it they aren’t good candidates for either surgery or chemotherapy.

Nelson Mandela is in the hospital to get antibiotic infusions, and there may be a reason why he cannot get them in his home. But at 94, it may be preferable to the patient and his family to keep the patient comfortable, even if that means his life may not be prolonged.

We can’t make the clinical decision for President Mandela, but when our loved ones are faced with this kind of medical decision, working with an R.N. patient advocate can help us understand the risks, as well as the benefits, of treatment.