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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The last time I was in Israel, I went on some home visits with a palliative care physician in the town of Sfat near the Sea of Galilee. My colleague, a devout Jewish doctor, took me to several homes to offer advice on managing his most serious, terminally ill patients. One older Chassidic Rabbi was dealing with an advanced lung cancer, and having a difficult time accepting any kind of ...

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What do we want in the last days of life?  We want no pain. We want simple dignity, the physical kind where we clean ourselves, organize our medicine and command our bowels.  As important is the complex dignity of choosing where we spend our final days, make tough decisions for ourselves and, as much as possible, live as a person, not a patient.  It occurs to me that these critical ...

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A perspective that comes from continuity of care over many years. An awareness of local resources. A sense of who a family is. An appreciation of the things that give life meaning and value to a child and family. Isn’t this care a lot to offer families of seriously ill children? What happens to all of this knowledge when a child becomes more ill and spends increasing amounts of time ...

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We will all someday die. No matter how good our doctors are, how many scans we get, how compliant we are with medications, how many cutting-edge surgeries we undergo, we will all die. That scares us. Most of us fear death: We do everything we can to avoid it, and when it inevitably comes, we struggle and refuse it. Similarly, when someone we love is dying, we want to do ...

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One of my most treasured stories as an ED physician belongs to a lovely couple who valued quality of life. It was a routine day in the ED when an elderly woman rolled through the ambulance doors on a cold, narrow stretcher, unaccompanied by family. She was placed in bed 5, which is where we met. She was frail and her memory was poor. The EMS run sheet reported “change ...

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I loved my father. His doctor was fond of him, too. Three times we nearly lost him, and each time he pulled through, weaker, but enjoying life.  When the magical recovery didn’t materialize, it was hard to believe that this was really going to be the end -- hard for my family, and maybe harder for his doctor. No one wanted time with my dad more than I did. I wanted ...

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America is one of the sickest places on earth.  We have the best diabetic care, but the most diabetes.  First-rate cardiac care, but we are obese, hypertensive, inactive, and have high rates of heart disease.  We are the world’s standard for cancer technology, innovation and access, but we have high cancer rates even while we waste most of the money from cigarette taxes on road repairs.  At every socioeconomic level, ...

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