To See What Matters

When Senator John McCain announced his cancer was glioblastoma in 2017, I knew his death would come quickly. It is a brutal cancer.

And I suspected, based on his public persona—though we never know what others are truly like—that the former prisoner of war would make the most of his living until he died. In his book, Character is Destiny, McCain wrote,

“So live your life that the fear of death can never enter your heart. Trouble no one about their religion; respect others in their view, and demand that they respect yours. Love your life, perfect your life, beautify all things in your life. Seek to make your life long and its purpose in the service of your people. Prepare a noble death song for the day when you go over the great divide.”

The Arizona senator’s death in this last week transported me to a day in hospice when I visited three patients, back-to-back-to-back, and observed glimpses of people who tried to “beautify all things.” Read More →

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List of Comorbidities

A person enters hospice based on a primary diagnosis. Multiplying cancer cells will lead to the death. Or, the aging heart grows weaker. Maybe lungs are compromised. Dementia demolishes normalcy. All of these illnesses may become fatal.

However, as we get older, as we get sicker, as we become more vulnerable, there’s typically more than one illness eroding the sturdy walls of our vitality. When a hospice team first reviews a patient’s history, her or his comorbidities are discussed along with the primary disease. In other words, we are alert to the other life-limiting conditions that assault fragile flesh and brittle bones. As a non-medical participant in the care of a patient, the number (and numbing names) on a list of comorbidities that can afflict someone often flabbergasts me.

Let’s say Patient A, a lovely 60-something teacher, is dying from breast cancer. But she also has . . . diabetes, hypertension, AAA, CVA and DJD and more.

Let’s say Patient B, a once feisty 80-something, struggles with congestive heart failure. But he also has . . . Alzheimer’s, CBBG, Hypothyroidism, Acute MI and COPD and more.

So many things can harm or kill us. (Can harm or kill . . . me.) Read More →

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Can the Dying Hear?

Love, love, love you…

Be careful what you say around the dying, because hearing is the last of the five senses to go.

As my mother neared death in an August five years ago, a number of people shared that caution with me. Nurses mentioned it. Several doctors, with different degrees of enthusiasm, reinforced the importance of speaking to the comatose patient. A few of Mom’s close friends emphasized the statement while adding personal anecdotes of when and how it had been true for them.

Over the years, I’ve heard and read about those that recovered from a supposedly fatal injury and reported what had been said around or about them. Still others, after being unconscious, expressed dismay about a doctor or family member’s pessimistic and casually hurtful statements. Read More →

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