Dying & Death Talk

Looking at dying and death for what it is: a part of life.

The Patients Were Saved. That’s Why the Families Are Suing.

Courtesy of The New York Times | By Paula Span | Photo by Joyce Hesselberth | Originally Published 04.10.2017 | Posted 12.17.2017

What happened to Beatrice Weisman before dawn on Aug. 29, 2013, was not supposed to happen: The medical staff at Maryland General Hospital found her in cardiac arrest, resuscitated her and kept her alive.

The matriarch of a close-knit family on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, Ms. Weisman, then 83, had suffered a serious stroke in June and had spent weeks in two hospitals.

Fortunately, she and her husband had drafted advance directives; she named her husband, William, to make medical decisions if she became unable to.

In August, as her condition deteriorated, Mr. Weisman convened a wrenching family meeting at their Easton home. With the support of their four children, he authorized Medical Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment, known as a Molst form, stating that if his wife’s heart or lungs failed, she should be allowed to die.

(In Maryland and most other states, Molst or Polst — Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment — forms become part of physicians’ orders; they apply in every health care setting and provide a clearer guide to patients’ wishes than standard advance directives.) Continue reading “The Patients Were Saved. That’s Why the Families Are Suing.”

His Tattoo Said ‘Do Not Resuscitate.’ Doctors Wanted Another Opinion.

Courtesy of New York Times | By Jacey Fortin | Originally Published 12.04.2017 | Posted 12.16.2017

A man in Miami took extra care to make sure his end-of-life medical treatment went according to his wishes: He had the words “do not resuscitate” tattooed on his chest.

The black, bold capital letters were in plain sight on his collarbone. The word “not” was underlined, for good measure. And the man’s own signature was reproduced beneath the demand.

It worked, in a way. The man, 70, had a history of lung disease, heart problems and diabetes when he was admitted to the Jackson Memorial Hospital this year. He was unconscious and did not have any identification. His blood alcohol level was high.

According to a letter published in The New England Journal of Medicine on Thursday, doctors administered some treatment, but the man never became responsive enough to speak. And while the message of the tattoo was clear, doctors had no way of knowing whether getting it had been an impulsive decision.

So they consulted an ethics expert, Kenneth W. Goodman, who advised them to honor the man’s apparent wishes. The doctors stopped short of administering the most invasive forms of lifesaving treatment, and the man’s health deteriorated until he died. Continue reading “His Tattoo Said ‘Do Not Resuscitate.’ Doctors Wanted Another Opinion.”

Road to Recovery

Courtesy of The New York Times | By James G. Robinson | Photo by Credit Eleni Kalorkoti | Originally Published 12.07.2017 | Posted 12.15.2017

In January, our son died at the age of 5, suddenly but not unexpectedly. He had been born with a complicated heart condition that required multiple surgeries and frequent medical attention. His short life had been filled with miracles, and he had a calm spirit that balanced the normal-kid energy of his two brothers.

The five of us often took road trips together in our aging but usually-reliable ’98 Outback, the boys singing along with the Blues Brothers in the back seat. Down to the beach in blazing sun; out to their grandparents in snow and slush; back home to Brooklyn on the interstate after months at a hospital miles away.

In the aftermath of his death, we felt sad, and proud — and empty.

Therapists we spoke with told us the various ways that people deal with loss. My wife was an “attender,” immersing herself in the reality of our son’s death and confronting her grief head-on.

I was a “distractor,” busying myself with a million little things to avoid sinking into the depths of despair. Work was an obvious outlet, but not enough. I organized our small apartment. I helped our older son build a computer. And I planned a crazy road trip. Because all I really wanted was to get away, preferably at 65 miles an hour. Continue reading “Road to Recovery”

Resident Creates Online Resource on Death and Dying

Courtesy of |Originally Published 11.21.2017 | Posted 12.14.2017

Chris Crawford – While participating in the AAFP Foundation’s Family Medicine Leads Emerging Leader Institute( this year, Joshua Wienczkowski, M.D., created the End of Life Literacy website.(  

The first-year resident at East Tennessee State University Family Medicine Residency in Kingsport designed the website as a point-of-care tool to guide medical students and residents step-by-step through end-of-life care discussions.

End of Life Literacy includes the death and dying scenarios and associated discussions that medical students and residents are most likely to encounter in their training. Each of these conversations is outlined by a practicing physicians who regularly deals with the situation described.

  • While participating in the AAFP Foundation’s Family Medicine Leads Emerging Leader Institute this year, Joshua Wienczkowski, M.D., created the End of Life Literacy website.
  • The website presents the six death and dying discussions that medical students and residents are most likely to encounter in their training.
  • The website also offers resources such as handpicked academic and journal articles on death and dying, relevant TED Talks, and books on end-of-life care that physicians have recommended.

The website also offers resources such as handpicked academic and journal articles on death and dying, TED Talks that medical students and residents can stream while on call and books on end-of-life care that physicians have recommended. Additional sections present residents’ accounts of how they cope with death and dying, stories of dying patients told by the physicians who cared for them in their final days, and information on how to become certified in end-of-life literacy. Continue reading “Resident Creates Online Resource on Death and Dying”

A Buddhist teacher on what the living can learn from the dying

Courtesy of | By Sean Illing | Originally Published 12.07.2017 | Posted 12.13.2017

We know that we will die, yet we spend much of our lives trying very hard not to think about it. But is it wise to ignore death? Could we live better if we spent more time thinking about our own mortality?

Frank Ostaseski is the author of The Five Invitations: Discovering What Death Can Teach the Living and helped found the Zen Hospice Project’s Guest House, the country’s first Buddhist hospice center, in San Francisco during the AIDS crisis. The center opened its doors to people facing their deaths, caring for them regardless of their background or income. The hospice was unique in its reliance on mindfulness practice as a tool to help people die peacefully.

These days, Ostaseski is director of the Metta Institute, an educational center devoted to end-of-life care in America — and his perspective is badly needed. As Atul Gawande’s best-selling book Being Mortal showed, we’ve done a great job of curing illnesses, managing pain, and helping people live longer, but we still haven’t figured out how to deal gracefully with death.

In this interview, we discuss what Ostaseski has learned from the conversations he’s had with the dying. “For most people,” he told me, “it’s about relationships. It’s about answering two questions: ‘Am I loved?’ and ‘Did I love well?’ So much of what happens around the end of life boils down to those two questions.”

And, he argues, these lessons about what truly matters to humans in the most profound moment of their lives could help all of us live fuller, happier lives right now.

You can read a lightly edited transcript of our conversation below or click on the link to listen to it in full.

Continue reading “A Buddhist teacher on what the living can learn from the dying”

Embracing Life And Death

Courtesy of | By Adam Frank | Originally Posted 11.19.2013 | Posted 12.12.2017

t’s the question beyond all questions, the central enigma, the unrelenting mystery. Beyond understanding the nature of matter or the origin of species, past the strangeness of quantum computing or the reality of a multiverse, it’s there. Always.

I’m talking about death.

The arguments about what happens after we die are manifold. Some religions are quite explicit about what to expect after death. They provide us with visions of heaven or hell, depending on the choices made in this life. Many atheists are pretty explicit, too, about their expectations, or lack of them, for what lies beyond. As a scientist, however, I have always been unimpressed with both positions.

While I’m willing to put my bets down against an immortal soul ascending to heaven or descending to damnation, I’m simply agnostic about the fundamental nature of awareness as a phenomenon in the cosmos. Given how little we understand about the roots of consciousness, it simply doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me to make commitments one way or the other when it comes to questions of what exactly dies and how. Continue reading “Embracing Life And Death”

Palliative Chemo Can Make It More Likely You’ll Die In The ICU

Courtesy of | By Nancy Shute | Photo by Gerry Broome/AP | Originally Published 03.04.2014 | Posted 12.11.2017

Cancer patients who get chemotherapy in the last months of their lives are more likely to die in the intensive care unit, rather than where they wish, a study finds.

And with more than half of all people with incurable cancer getting palliative chemotherapy in the months before they die, many people could be suffering more than needed.

Palliative chemotherapy is used to control symptoms and, perhaps, buy a patient a bit more time, once it’s clear the person will likely die from the cancer. Continue reading “Palliative Chemo Can Make It More Likely You’ll Die In The ICU”

Holiday blues: Four mistakes we make when comforting friends who are struggling

Courtesy of | Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant, Opinion contributors | Photo by Martin Klimek, USA TODAY | Published 12.01.2017 | Posted 12.10.2017

If you have a loved one who’s suffering, “Happy holidays!” can feel like a cruel joke. The most wonderful time of the year? Not for everyone.

Click the picture below to see what Sheryl Sanberg says.

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Hilary went to a toy store, bought a stuffed animal, and sent an email: “I’m coming to the hospital with a package for your daughter. I don’t want to invade your privacy or hers. If you don’t feel like coming down I’ll leave it at the front desk. No pressure.” The teacher replied immediately, inviting her up. As the girl unwrapped her new toy, the teacher thanked Hilary with tears in her eyes.

Although we all want to support others through hardship, knowing how to do that isn’t always intuitive. Every bookstore has a self-help section — but sometimes what we really need is a “help others” section.

The holidays are supposed to be a time of celebration — but if you’re dealing with illness, divorce, incarceration or grief, that festive spirit can feel like salt being poured on a wound. Holidays can make you painfully aware of the love, liberty or life you’ve lost.

If you have a loved one who’s suffering, phrases you’ve used a thousand times without a second thought —“Happy holidays! Season’s greetings!” — can feel like a cruel joke. The most wonderful time of the year? Not for everyone. Continue reading “Holiday blues: Four mistakes we make when comforting friends who are struggling”

Musings on Mortality: Good dying time results in good death

Courtesy of The Berkshire Eagle | By Deborah Golden Alecson | Originally Posted 12.01.2017 | Published 12.09.2017

The very first module for my medical humanities course is called “Good Death: Oxymoron or Possibility?” A good death implies a good dying time leading up to death. The question is can dying ever be good or is this unacceptable given it is, after all, dying — the end of life? Many of my students conclude after reading and viewing the required material that a good dying time and death is individual, but certainly requires dignity, pain management and a faithfulness to treatment wishes found in advanced directives. They come to understand that how we die is in direct relationship to how we have lived. A death-phobic and death-denying existence more often than not does not lead to a good death and that being tethered to machines in an ICU receiving futile care that prolongs the dying process can be the result.

There are also the emotional and spiritual needs of the dying that require attention. I knew a woman who went into hospice care at home, where she was cared for by her husband and daughter. Even though she was in hospice, her family did not talk to her as if she were dying. They did not want the rare few who were allowed to visit to talk to her about death or dying. The subject was not to be brought up. Her teen-age granddaughter thought she was doing great. The family refused the input of the hospice social worker or chaplain, but allowed a nurse to check in on her. When she became agitated, she was given medication to calm her down. It was as if a shameful and dirty secret was contained in the home. This is not a good dying time and it went on much longer than anticipated. As far as I know, there was no service planned. It was as if her dying was no big deal, which to me means her living was no big deal as well.  Continue reading “Musings on Mortality: Good dying time results in good death”

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