The day before, she’d had a whole body PET scan. Before that, it was a chest and pelvis CT. With her history of breast cancer, they were looking for metastases after she’d lost half her body weight in three years. She now weighed 97 pounds and looked like a skeleton with sun-bleached skin wrapped around it. When I asked her how things were at home she said: “It’s hard having a husband and a son with severe depression.” “Have you talked to someone about that?” – I asked. “Some,” she said. – “And has it helped?” – “A little”, she answered. “Well, has it helped more or less than the PET scan?” – I said. “Oh, much, much more.”

We have MRI and CT scanners; we have EKG machines and the ability to thread a catheter through a coronary artery at a moment’s notice – in time to save the life of a person who, fifty years ago, would likely have died in his or her loved-one’s arms – but these improvements exist only in the short term. We do well when it comes