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I’m a doctor. Preparing you for death is as much a part of my job as saving lives.

by Shoshana Ungerleider on October 19, 2015 It wasn’t until just before graduation that we talked about what to do when a patient is dying. A single three-hour seminar with a group of specialists from the palliative care service; at least it was mandatory. The presenters were young physicians, and they seemed kind and thoughtful. But I wondered why anyone would devote their medical career to end-of-life care. My classmates …Read More

A nurse with fatal breast cancer says end-of-life discussions saved her life

By Amy Berman September 28 To: Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services: News reports say you will soon make a final decision about paying doctors and other providers who talk to their patients about end-of-life planning, I have a fatal form of breast cancer, and I’d like to tell you how such conversations have allowed me to survive, and live well, in the five years since my diagnosis. I am …Read More

The I.C.U is Not a Pause Button – NYTimes Opinionator

By KRISTEN MCCONNELL AUGUST 26, 2015 With my elderly stroke patient’s back arched and his head tilted back, too many angles of his skeleton were on display. A nose covered in thin gray skin sliced the air like a shark fin, and beneath it his mouth hung open. He didn’t look like he was resting. Read the entire piece here.

Last Stand – Pulse

Last Stand Friday, 24 July 2015 E. Wesley Ely The first time I saw Jessa, she lay crumpled in the ICU bed, paralyzed, expressionless and unable to speak. A military veteran, she had fought in Desert Storm, but she now was facing a deadlier and more inexorable foe: amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), aka Lou Gehrig’s disease. This disease causes progressive loss of muscle control, and Jessa was unable to speak, …Read More

Making the end of life part of health care

The Boston Globe – by The Editorial Board THE NEWS EARLIER THIS month that Medicare plans to reimburse doctors for conversations with patients about medical treatment at the end of life represents an important step forward for public policy in health care. It also signals a welcome shift to a more open attitude toward a subject most people would rather avoid. In short, the agency is proposing to support open …Read More

Knowing How Doctors Die Can Change End-Of-Life Discussions

(originally published by NPR on JULY 06, 2015) Dr. Kendra Fleagle Gorlitsky recalls the anguish she felt performing CPR on elderly, terminally ill patients. It looks nothing like what we see on TV. In real life, ribs often break and few survive the ordeal. “I felt like I was beating up people at the end of their life,” she says. “I would be doing the CPR with tears coming down sometimes, and …Read More

Experts on Dying, Aging as They Lived – from the New York Times Opinionator

By ALEXANDRA BUTLER JUNE 17, 2015 At 10 years old I knew my parents did not wish to be resuscitated nor plugged into machines in the event of serious illness. They told me they were not afraid of death but rather of being kept alive at any cost. I knew they would refuse medical interventions, if they felt there was no purpose except to separate the dying from their deaths. They were …Read More

End-of-life counsel from doctors seen as lacking

Americans routinely tell researchers they don’t want to spend their final days tethered to machines in a hospital, preferring to die at home with less invasive treatments. But that rarely happens. Now, a study from Brigham and Women’s Hospital suggests the biggest reason for that disconnect appears to be the doctors who treat those patients. The physicians, the study suggests, have outsized influence in shaping how patients spend their final …Read More

Wisconsin is learning how to die

La Crosse is a small town in western Wisconsin, right on the Minnesota border. It has about 51,000 residents. And La Crosse has, over the past three decades, done something remarkable: nearly all its residents have a plan for how they want to die. “One of our doctors recently told me that making a plan is just like taking blood pressure or doing allergy tests,” says Bud Hammes, a medical …Read More

Meet the cancer patient in Room 52: His name is Joseph, but call him Joe

Hooked up to machines and a breathing tube, Joseph Mox, 55, can’t talk to the doctors and nurses bustling around a Johns Hopkins intensive care unit. But they know he likes to be called Joe, enjoys “NCIS” and relied on his Catholic faith through bouts of colon and esophageal cancer. And they jokingly ask him for a good deal on brakes because they know he used to manage a truck-parts …Read More