As I travel around speaking about preparing for peace at the end of life, I have found that there are three pervasive myths about hospice that might cause you to inadvertently rob yourself or your family of a peace-filled end-of-life experience. So, I am taking on the job of myth-buster to clear the air. Here goes: Myth #1: Hospice is a place. While hospice can be a place, it is primarily a service. ...

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Early on in my career I called an Indian internist in the middle of the night to admit a patient to him. The patient was an 88-year-old female with advanced dementia, a terminal brain disease. She had aspiration pneumonia, which is often the final common pathway of this illness. She was in respiratory failure, in septic shock and was a “full code.” I can still recall our 4 a.m. conversation: “Hi, Dr. ...

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I live and work in the house medicine. You would think that those of us who have chosen this profession would actually know what dying looks like. Furthermore, one would hope that if the doctor could identify dying, he or she could share this with the patient and family (given that this is fairly significant medical information). I never cease to be amazed that most doctors cannot speak straightforwardly and compassionately about ...

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Most of the time I feel as though I am running in quicksand attempting to bring patients to a place of grace and dignity in dying. On occasion, there is someone who jerks me out of my quicksand and plants me squarely on stable shore and then proceeds to show me what grace and dignity in the face of death really look and feel like. Please meet Mr. Jefferson. Mr. Jefferson had long, lacy ...

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Mrs. Sandra Jackson knew that she was no Warren Buffet. She knew that she was no Bill Gates. Instead, Mrs. Jackson knew that she worked two jobs, 7 days a week to support her family. So, she hid her breast condition for a better time, another day. She would ask herself, which was more important: going to a doctor or buying her children dinner? For a true mother, the answer ...

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Many years ago when I was a “young” doctor, moonlighting in the ER of a tiny country town, I had an experience that challenged my training. You see, most young, new doctors often think their training and knowledge is superior to that of “old” doctors, which is often malarkey. A wise and sage old doctor in this tiny country town taught me an important lesson on where and how one ...

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Standing up from my computer terminal to go see another patient, I caught a glimpse of a small, spindly frail woman being rolled by paramedics into one of my shock and trauma rooms. Very calmly, I remarked, “That woman is dying.” The medical student who was rotating with me was unnerved that I would make such a pronouncement out of a mere casual observance, “Oh my goodness! How can you just say ...

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By typical end-of-life definitions, Nelson Mandela is dying (he is in critical condition after a lengthy hospital stay, and has had multiple recent admissions). Those of us in the healthcare professions see this end-of-life equation all of the time: increasing severity of illness and frequency of hospitalizations plus advanced age almost always equals dying. Now, everyone likes to believe this equation may be altered by hopes, prayers, and modern medicine. ...

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I write a lot about end of life conversations that go well or have unexpectedly positive outcomes. But to be fair and balanced, you should also hear about the ones that don't go so well, lest you be led to believe that I have magical powers over my patients and their families. Here are two of my attempted end of life map conversations that did not go over so well. In fact, ...

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Throughout the course of my career I have probably been with hundreds of people as they transitioned into and out of death. Although I am familiar with what this journey looks like, I have not yet been privy to the journey myself. Rarely though, I have had the pleasure of listening to someone who has journeyed back from death and arrived with a story to tell. Regardless of your position ...

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