In The End – What is the Meaning of Life? (with transcript)

In The End – What is the Meaning of Life? (with transcript)

Dr. Michael Weisberg has been a practicing gastroenterologist for over 28 years in Plano, Texas. He is board certified in Internal Medicine and Gastroenterology.

He has been recognized as a ‘Super-Doctor’ by Texas Monthly and named to D Magazine’s list of best doctors eight times. Dr. Weisberg also serves as a board member of Digestive Health Associates of Texas.

The Hospitalist was Dr. Weisberg’s first novel. He also did a TED talk based on ‘how the art of medicine has become a business in the 21st century’. We’ll be discussing his second novel, which is called In The End.



Frank Samson:            Welcome to Boomers Today, I'm your host Frank Samson. Of course, each week on our show we bring you important, useful information on issues facing Baby Boomers, their parents and other loved ones. I just want to thank everybody for being part of the show, our listeners are growing all the time and it's because we have some great guests on our show and we have another one with us today, who I have interviewed in the past, his name is Dr. Michael Weisberg.

              Dr Weisberg has been a practicing gastroenterologist for the past 28 years in Plano, Texas. He's a board certified in Internal Medicine and Gastroenterology. He has been recognized as a quote super doctor by Texas Monthly and named to D Magazines list of best doctors 8 times. Dr. Weisberg also serves as a board member of Digestive Health Associates of Texas. The Hospitalist is Dr. Weisberg's first novel and we had him on the show after he wrote that. He also did a TED talk based on how the art of medicine has become a business in the 21st century. And we'll also be discussing his second novel, which is called In The End. Dr. Weisberg thanks so much for joining us on Boomers Today.

Michael Weisberg:     Frank thank you so much for having me. I appreciate it, it's good to reconnect with you.

Frank:                            Yeah, it's great to reconnect. I'm pretty excited on some great information to discuss. Let's jump right into it. Can you start by telling us a little bit about The End?

Michael:                        Sure. I'm a Gastroenterologist and I perform endoscopic procedures on patients,  including colonoscopy and before I put patients to sleep, after going through their medical histories and things, I'd ask say, "Do you have any questions for me?" The majority would say no. The most asked question would be, "Yes, when do I get to go home?”

But some of the patients would say to me, "Yes, Dr. Weisberg, what's the meaning to life?" And first, I'd would just kind of blow it off and think it was them just trying to be humorous, and not answer and just go ahead and put them to sleep. But the more I thought about it, the more I became convinced that there is no one meaning to life. I thought it's more what gives meaning to your individual life and that's how I would answer the patient. The question you should be asking is, what gives meaning to my life. Patients were happy with that answer and a lot of them would go to sleep talking about their lives and meaning to their lives and even wake up 20-30 minutes later continuing the conversation as though they hadn't been asleep.

              And I was satisfied with that answer for a while, but then I realized it wasn’t enough for me. I decided that I wanted to go on a journey to search for the meaning to life. I'm 60 years old now and I went back through my life, I read thinking about my experience that I'd had and plus being a doctor, dealing with life and death on a daily basis, I looked at things and I came as the true meaning of life. And I decided to write about it. I created five characters to help tell my story about the meaning of life.       

Frank:                            Okay, great. What does bring meaning to a person's life? It’s very interesting talking to you as a physician. Do you get into discussions with patients on this subject matter often, or is this something that has come up more and more over time?

Michael:                       I think that because I have worked with many of the same patients over the years, and as a result I have gotten to know them and they have gotten to know me, and through these conversations is when the discussion of the meaning of life comes up. 

And if you just look at the five main characters from the book, the first one, whose name is Gabriel – what gives meaning to his life is his family and his job. His son dies very young, and he can’t understand why. That’s one struggle he has. He's also someone that is the old kind of doctor, and feels that no matter what, he needs to try to help to patients. 

              There's a Hebrew expression called Tikkun Olam, and that basically means that man is put on this Earth in order to help God repair the Earth. It's a broken world and we're here to help God, be his partners in repairing it. And that's Gabriel's philosophy. 

              In contrast, there's a character in the novel named Lester, a young black gentleman, who all his life has wanted to be successful. He had dreams of becoming a football star all throughout high school, but in his senior year, he injures himself and is unable to become a professional player. But he's determined to be successful, and to bring his family back together. He's grown up with no parents, shifted from one family member to another.     

Frank:                            I may be veering off subject by asking this, but I want to know. How have you seen the relationship between doctor and patient change over the years?

Michael:                        Well, when I started out, it was very normal for a doctor to stay with their patients for 20, 30 years, and continue to care for them even if they went in and out of the hospital. You wouldn’t hand over responsibility of your patient to another doctor even if they were transferred to a different hospital. 

Nowadays, that’s commonplace. The doctors who take care of patients normally are not the same doctors taking care of them when they go into the hospital. The work ethic has changed. The doctors of today seem like that want a more 9 to 5 job, rather than a job where they are consistently immersed in their patients’ lives.                                                    

                                        The fact that you can have someone go through all the years of medical school and training and then not want to take care of sick patients because of the hours and time that's involved and the work that's involved is disappointing. I think that when you interview doctors now days, many are not interested in building up a practice but in being a salaried doctor. But in working nine to five and getting paid a salary.

              Rather than stay a doctor as long as you can, you're healthy and mentally and physically and help as many people as you can. And do your best to make the world better. Now it's a question of working until you have enough money to retire.        

Frank:                            Do you think it's really the doctors’ fault that this occurred, or is it the healthcare system that's caused it?

Michael:                        I think it's both. I think the healthcare system certainly has played a role. I mentioned in my TED talk that a big culprit is the health insurance companies. I am a big fan of getting rid of the health insurance companies completely.

                                        I think they try to take over the way medicine is practiced and also by rationing down doctors’ payments, and in that way pushing them toward more ‘mainstream’ work. We see Internists who do Botox injections in their office. We see Gynecologists who do plastic surgery. Things like that. I think that the doctors, the work ethic of the doctor, I think has changed somewhat. 

                                        In fact, the whole idea of what it is to be a doctor has changed somewhat. Not just due to the medical profession but also due to healthcare, and to insurance companies.

                                        For an insurance company to tell a doctor what medicine can and can't be prescribed, and then to tell the patient that they can’t have the medicine they ordered, drives a wedge between the doctor and patient as each becomes frustrated by their limitation. Once you try to start driving wedges in that bond, then I think medicine doesn't get practiced the way it should be.

Frank:                            Yeah. I want to get back to that discussion and then talk to you a little bit more about the sandwich generation and replacing healthcare insurance across the board.                                                                                                 

Michael:                        Yes, I’d like to replace healthcare insurance companies with the government and with people like myself to guide it. Not bureaucrats but people that day to day are involved in medicine and could tell the government how it should be run. Where the costs are, where the overpay is, what things should be done and what things shouldn't be done.                          

Frank:                           It's interesting, and I'm sure you're familiar with this, and not everybody is going to be, as you know I'm based in California and I happen to be a member of a Kaiser group here. And I have found that the communication between myself as the patient and any of the doctors that I’ve had has been phenomenal. 

                                        And the doctors at my group, at least, I believe are pretty much on salary. And they are more nine to five and they're being a doctor and they're not doing all this paperwork and things like that. Does this sound like something you’d be on board with?

Michael:                       Absolute, yes. It's interesting with Kaiser how their model has worked well in certain places and not worked well at all in others. They had it in Dallas and it didn’t last very long at all. Hasn't been around for 20 years. What I'm suggesting to you is that the doctors do work together, that our computer systems are integrated with each other, that we do talk to each other, we do know about the patients.

                                        Doctors in the hospital just know about the patients outside the hospital because the computer systems let them know about it. I know that there's still incentives for doctors to work hard and there's still incentives for those who want to, to build big practices and things. 

Frank:                            Yeah. Very interesting. Thank you for explaining that to us. Now I want to move on and talk to you about the sandwich generation, the generation between their 40s and 70s, who often find themselves stuck between taking care of their parents and supporting their early 20s children. Do you often work with these adults, who are trying to provide healthcare to both their aging parents and their own children?

Michael:                       First of all, I'll say, before I get to myself personally, I'll say that you're exactly right. That I see patients all the time now, in their 50s and 60s, who are still dealing with taking care of their children and they're still dealing with taking elderly parents. It puts a tremendous strain on them, both financially and emotionally. My first piece of advice after seeing this all the time, for this time period, now that we have this, would be to recommend that you get married at a younger age, in your 20s and have the children in your 20s, if you can find the right person.

Of course, that's the key. I didn't find the right person until I was 34 and I've been married 26 years. But if you think about it, if you have your children in your 20s and by the time you’re in your 40s, early 50s, the children are done, they're out on their own and then your parents are starting to hit their 70s and 80s and then you have the time, energy and money to take care of them. That didn't happen to me and it didn't happen to a lot of us also because our parents are living longer.

                                        I think as adults we also have to set limits on how much we will do for our parents and our children. I have a rule that I will only support my children through their education, or until they turn 26 – then they’re out on their own. If you have the resources, hiring someone to help you manage these finances. One person who you may be familiar with is John Alagood, Senior Care Authority consultant.                   

Frank:                            Yeah, that's right, very nice of you to mention that.

Michael:                       And I’ll tell you this story. John, he found the place to live for my parents, for my wife's mom and it was reasonable costs, everything was fine. We went through, John and I, one hot summer day traveled around to five different places, adult living places, until we could find the place for my parents to live. He found us the mover, the person that moved them from where they were living to where they're living now. 

Frank:                           All right.

Michael:                       And finally, I want to say, that having said all this, the most important thing is that you make time to be with your parents and your children. You're working hard to make a living, but you also need to enjoy your family and make the memories that'll last forever because you have three generations. 

Frank:                            I appreciate those words. I appreciate you mentioning John, which is part of our organization Senior Care Authority, so thank you for that.

Michael:                        Sure. He's great.

Frank:                           Before we sign off, because unfortunately we're out of time, I could talk to you for another half hour here at least. I want you to again mention your book, how they can get it, any other information you want to share. Go right ahead.

Michael:                        Okay, my book is called In The End, and it’s a medical thriller that talks about what gives meaning to live and what is the meaning in your life. It's available at Barnes and Noble bookstores and at and as I mentioned it's available at the Inner Geek bookstore in Huntington, West Virginia, which is where I grew up. My book, The Hospitalist, is still available on and and it explores how the art of medicine became a business in the 21st century. My website is, my TED talk that I gave in 2016 is How the Art of Medicine became a business in the 21st Century. If you want me to do a talk or interested in me speaking to your group, my publicist is Diane Feffer F-E-F-F-E-R, whose number is 972-670-7078.

Frank:                            Great, Dr. Michael Weisberg, thank you so much for joining us on Boomers Today. We'll have you back again.

Michael:                        Frank it's been a pleasure, and it's always a pleasure talking to you.

Frank:                            Thank you for joining us on Boomers Today. Just be safe out there and we'll talk to you all soon.

                                        You've been listening to Boomers Today with Frank Samson. To learn more about today's show, visit Boomers Today and join us next time for another edition of Boomers Today.

In The End – What is the Meaning of Life? (with transcript)