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  • Writer's pictureBruce Campbell MD

The Final Ambulance Ride

Updated: Jan 8, 2020

Common sense ain't common. -Will Rogers

I sorted out family memorabilia a while back. Here is an excerpt from my great-grandfather’s obituary from March 7, 1929:  

“Frank Briggle, 63 years old and a widely known farmer, died suddenly this morning at his home on Joplin Street, death following an attack of heart disease. He had been in poor health for three weeks but was considered improving. He came to town this morning with his son, Will, and was at the Dawson Motor Company’s office when he was seized with heart failure. He was rushed to his home in the ambulance and died there soon afterwards…Mr. Briggle is survived by his wife and three children: two boys, George and Will, and a daughter, Mabel.” 

Read it again. Are you as surprised as I am? “He was rushed to his home in the ambulance.” In fact, my great-grandfather’s town had a well-respected, up-to-date hospital. Apparently, though, when my great-grandfather was close to death, the place to send him — via ambulance, no less — was home! That would never happen today.   

This dusty family episode came into perspective for me when I ran across the following numbers: In the US, we each spend, on average, over $11,100 per year on health care. We each spend $285,000 on health care after we reach age 65. Studies show that we spend 8% of our lifetime health care expenses in the final year of life. People who eventually die from cancer spend even more. The costs can be devastating. 

By persuading the ambulance driver to take him home, my frugal Presbyterian great-grandfather completed his life and controlled his healthcare spending at the same time. I hope he was able to enjoy his final moments at home with his wife, his two boys, and the sweet young woman who eventually became my grandmother. May they all rest in peace.   

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