“He’d feel okay about not replacing the pacemaker’s battery when it ran down, he said. But turning it off, he said, would be 'too active.' Later he would tell me that it would have been “like putting a pillow over your father’s head.” These are the words of Katy Butler in her book Knocking on Heaven’s Door – The Path to a Better Way of Death in which she writes about her ...

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Ever wonder what a "gomer" is? While certainly passé and unprofessional, does it shed light into the frustrations both doctors and patients have with end-of-life care? Emergency physician and author Brian Goldman explains the origins and use of such medical slang in his book, The Secret Language of Doctors.

Much is being made of the AMA's recommendation to reimburse doctors for the time they take in having end-of-life discussions with their patients.  The recommendations appear to have a good chance of being covered by Medicare and certainly are a step in the right direction.  But will one conversation and the completed documents really work?  Well, like so many other situations -- it depends. How skilled is the medical provider ...

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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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Jack was the very first palliative care patient I met. Visiting him in his home, I feared the worst: emaciation, pain, a fluxing state of consciousness, and the otherwise bed-bound shadow of a former life. Instead, the first sight I was greeted with was a beaming smile beneath a bushy moustache. But for his IV lines and analgesia pump, Jack might have passed for a completely well middle-aged man, certainly ...

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The worst thing anyone ever said to me was, “You think you know everything, but let me tell you:  You don’t know jack!” I was six weeks into my social work internship at a hospice and it was my student supervisor who decided I needed an attitude adjustment. Needless to say, I didn’t stay there. I was angry and hurt for a long time but now I’ve come to realize ...

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In inpatient settings, family physicians frequently care for patients with progressive, incurable conditions that cause severe pain. Interventions aimed at slowing the progress of a disease often add to patients' physical distress; therefore, pharmacologic management of pain is a key component of end-of-life care, as outlined in an article in an issue of American Family Physician. However, as Drs. Timothy Daaleman and Margaret Helton discuss in an accompanying editorial, providing analgesia is ...

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I was taught in medical school (some 50 years ago) that doctors had a special duty to protect the patient.  That seemed self evident and logical.  "Do no harm" was a first principle dating back to Hippocrates. However the teaching I received extended the concept to also protect the patient from bad news, and to make "the right" decision for them -- not necessarily including them in the conversation or ...

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My grandmother recently went into hospice care. At 94, she has lived a longer, richer life than probably most of us will ever hope to. Given the nature of the work I do, end of life care is not a topic I’m unfamiliar with. Initially, I spent a lot of time asking my mother probing questions about the care my grandmother was receiving. I imagine I did this partly out ...

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