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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One of the skilled nursing facilities I work with has a hospice unit.  We occasionally have patients on the hospice unit who might benefit from physical therapy.  The physical therapists that see patients in the skilled nursing facility say they will talk with the patient about their goals, and if their goals are to maintain their current level of functioning, they will work with the patient.  If the goals are ...

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I recently talked about how we might approach the idea of our own death. I wanted to start a discussion about how individuals engage with, think about and plan for the end of their life. In offering a medical perspective on what death is like, I hoped to stimulate self-reflection about this scary and foreign topic. However, when we think about death, we don’t just think about our own ...

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shutterstock_159402392 Hospice is a set of services that we all may need someday -- if not for ourselves, for our parents. While death is not an option for any of us, we do have choices about the services we use at the end of life. Hospice is undoubtedly the best option in the last months of life because it offers a whole ...

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A few months ago, I walked into work on a late-night shift. One of the nurse practitioners came up to me and said, "There's someone you need to see right away." The patient was a woman of about 60, and it was clear that she was critically ill. According to her husband, she'd been diagnosed with cancer six months ago. It had metastasized throughout her body. Her oncology team made several ...

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Palliative surgery is tough stuff. Nobody wins much, and it often challenges one's ability to think clearly, let alone to tell the truth. Sometimes, I think, it borders on the deceptive; it makes me wonder who's the object of comfort. And yet, when there's nothing else to do, it's often just the right thing. I hate it. To be clear: We're talking about surgery to relieve some sort of specific problem, ...

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Agnes was out shopping at her local corner store.  At age 82 her body was beginning to show typical signs of aging.  She had survived breast cancer surgery, a hip replacement, and cataract surgery.  Her doctors told her she had osteoporosis and low vitamin D.  She took medications for her hypertension, cholesterol, and osteoporosis.  Her spine had begun to curve and her gait was a few steps slower. Yet, with her ...

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