When patients and their families seek hospice care, they are thinking about how they will die. They want to be without pain, shortness of breath, loneliness and, above all, fear. They want to end their lives with those they love, in a place they know, with respect and support. They want control. They want dignity. We all know this, and try to provide it as friends, family and caregivers. Nonetheless, ...

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Today I saw a news story about Walnut, an 18-year-old whippet in the UK, who had his last "walk" on the beach with his owner who had asked social media followers to join them. Shortly after that walk, surrounded by hundreds of family, friends, and supporters (human and canine alike), Walnut was put down. His last moments were spent as near to Heaven on earth as his owner could create ...

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I dreaded Mr. L’s office visits. His mouth half vacant of teeth and his clothes reeking of hand-rolled cigarettes, he regularly demanded medicines he didn’t need. He was pushy and thankless. I frequently declined his requests. He stuck with me anyway. Over the years he grew in orneriness. Divorced, childless, and unemployed, he declared one day that he was tired of living. He was reasonably healthy. He disavowed depression. Would I ...

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Otis was our first baby. He was covered in a caramel-colored fur, weighed 150 pounds and was the best bullmastiff dog anyone could ask for. He protected me from my husband’s incessant tickle attacks and thought that my lap was the best place for him to try and sit. Two years ago, I was walking Otis and he suddenly collapsed. After an extensive workup, including an EKG, blood work and an ...

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Man has been dying on a regular basis for millions of years — should we not be end-of-life experts by now? Why do I feel the need to devote pages and hours to this depressing topic? Is there a goal to my project, beyond venting the shared suffering which soaks my soul? What is my purpose? For humans, denial of death and marginalizing its effect on our lives is a major ...

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Do you know what the operator or person at the front desk is saying about palliative care?  When people call, saying the want palliative care, how are they responding? A study being presented in abstract form at the palliative care and oncology research symposium addresses this simple but critical question. Researchers at Duke (Kathryn Hutchins, third-year medical student first author, Arif Kamal, oncopal researcher, senior author) cold called 40 major comprehensive cancer ...

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David was 42 when he died from stomach cancer. He spent the last year of his life receiving useless chemotherapy and debilitating radiation. David was in terrible pain all of the time. He stayed in bed for months as cancer destroyed his ribs, back and lungs. Finally, David was rushed to a hospital, plugged into a breathing machine and pierced by countless IV drips. He died despite a battery of tests, ...

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When Kara Tippetts, a 38-year-old mother of four, died of breast cancer last year, more than 17,000 people live-streamed her funeral. Tippetts gained national prominence through her blog, where she confronted her impending death directly and offered a refreshingly frank take on what it's like to have a terminal disease. Unfortunately, the openness Tippetts displayed is usually missing where it's needed most: hospitals. Doctors, nurses and other caregivers are often reluctant ...

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It started, as far as I know, with a twinge. A back spasm in a healthy, but prone to back spasms, 68-year-old man, who soon was reduced to near tears in the parking lot of the Thai restaurant where we’d gone to get take out. It was early summer, and I was on a short visit to the east coast. My mother was the one to worry about. She had ...

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“Food is love,” my partner jokes as she unloads mountains of food from her latest trip to Costco. “I can’t help it! I’m Jewish!” she protests, when I wonder aloud how the two of us will ever manage to consume all that food. As the lineups at superstores attest, for a great many people being able to prepare and serve meals is a vital way of showing love. I never expected to ...

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