By David McKalip, M.D. – Carl Troup cuts hair well. He does it with style and with an ear and thought to current events. He cut hair in St. Petersburg for 46 years, with many community leaders among his longtime customers, including past Governor Charlie Crist. Carl Troup had a major heart attack earlier this year and he is alive, in part, due to great medical care he received at the hospital. But the real reason he is alive is because his wife and family never gave up on him despite some suggestion to do otherwise. Carl’s story shows that medical care still has much to offer and even when things seem grim, fighting to save a life when uncertainty looms is still the best option.
Carl Troup,69, finally shut down the Pyramid Barbershop after 46 years in operation, as reported recently in the Tampa Bay Times. The building he leased has been sold to make way for a Trader Joes on 4th St. N. However, he had two bigger events in his life this year: 1) he nearly died from a major heart attack, and 2) he got back to work after being told the odds were greatly against him. Carl was driving home for lunch when the heart attack struck, forcing him off the road where he was rescued by EMS. He was brought to a local hospital unconscious and the odds were definitely against his survival without medical care. He required resuscitation and slipped into a coma. His wife wrote up his entire medical story in a color flier Carl handed to his customers after his return.
The flier states: “[his wife] was advised that the odds were against her husband of 47 years and that they should consider discontinuing life support.” Linda Troup, Karl’s wife, is a retired RN with 34 years of experience and she knew what was meant when the ER doctors told her he “was gravely ill and should consider her options”. One option of course was to stop all care and let him die of his heart attack without medical intervention. Carl’s wife did not have to think about it for a second. She told the doctors to “leave no stone unturned”.
What happened next was a miracle. By today’s standards it might be considered routine, but compared to medicine merely 60-70 years ago, the recovery of Carl Troup was miraculous. Carl was kept on the ventilator. His doctors provided medical treatment to rescue his heart, his brain and his body from the heart attack. Carl awoke and three weeks after his presentation to the ER he had his ventilator tube removed. In his happy case the ventilator was removed not because it was time to give up, but because he could breathe on his own and provide the oxygen his heart and brain needed to function. He was ready for rehab and spent four weeks at Lexington Health and Rehabilitation center learning to function independently. He returned home four weeks later. Carl remembered feeling “despair” and wondered if he would ever get back to his normal activities. After about two months of medical care and rehabilitation, Carl was back on his feet and home. By November he was back in the barbershop, alive and clipping!
Carl’s story teaches us that we should go against the trend in medicine and society we are seeing today: to give up early and let our loved ones die quickly when they get to the hospital after a major event. As a brain and spine surgeon, I personally see many patients allowed to die from brain hemorrhages and strokes who can be saved with routine medical care. Admittedly, there are many who don’t survive, but it is clear that people with even a 30-40% chance are being allowed to die early after medical care is inappropriately written off by the health care community as “futile”. The metamorphosis of medical care from a reasonable effort to save lives to a rush to save resources for the state is due entirely to a shift in medical ethics brought on by a utilitarian philosophy embodied in the Obamacare strategy. It is the amoral ethic recently embraced by the AMA that physicians have “an obligation to be prudent stewards of shared societal resources” even it if means denying care to those who they have routinely saved in the past. Under the utilitarian Obamacare model, central medical economic planning predominates and people are not looked at as humans to save, but cost centers to manage.
Luckily, Carl had a trustworthy advocate at his side: his wife. She knew that he deserved a chance to survive and, using medical care that is largely 40 years old, he recovered and thrived. Carl had despair, but he had support from his wife and a medical community she reasonably ordered to get the job done to the best of their abilities. The common despair patients have early in a serious illness is why it is not a good idea to suggest to patients “they should stop” in the middle of an illness. It is best to offer hope and do what can be done until there is certainty that medicine has nothing to offer. Carl was back to cutting hair within three months of his heart attack and would have gone on longer if his storefront was not sold from under him.
I was blessed to receive my first hair cut from Carl earlier in the year, before his heart attack. It was the second best haircut I ever had. He never even asked me what to do, he just started cutting while he and I had a great discussion on politics and community issues. I stood up and was amazed, clearly this man had “the touch” and knew what to do without asking. The best haircut I ever had was on 12/10/13, after his heart attack when Carl cut my hair for the last time. He was on his feet, full of energy and smiling. An example of how families and patients should not give up hope when things seem dark. An example of the miracles medicine can produce if we only give patients a fighting chance.