Sometimes (talking about) Death Gets Stuck in Our Throats

Have you ever heard someone react to a comment by responding, “That sounds Greek to me!”

In other words, we don’t comprehend the word or the statement. It doesn’t make sense.

That’s what I first thought about dysphagia when I started hearing it in hospice.

Huh? What?

In the case of dysphagia, it’s literally a Greek word and problematic to pronounce (dis-fay-gee-a) for most folks. The roots of the word are relatively simple. Dys is a prefix for, “No.” Think of the more commonly used dysfunctional or—because of the Hunger Games novels and their ilk—a grim, unsettling future world known as a dystopia.

Dysfunction = no function.

Dystopia = no good place.

The suffix phagia, though obscure and probably never used in our day-to-day conversations, also describes a familiar activity: eating. Medical professionals use dysphagia to identify patients that have difficulty with swallowing. In other words . . .

Dysphagia = no eating. Read More →

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Dementia and Other Terrible Dragons We Can’t Slay

What caused Dad’s death?

I don’t think I will ever know for sure.

Nonetheless, it’s a question that randomly nudges me during my hospice’s Interdisciplinary Group (IDG) as we discuss our patient’s recent deaths.

I know when my father died: the sixth day of February, in 2012. I know where he died: at the care facility where he spent his final two years. Or the where of his death could be identified as a particular town within Sacramento’s metropolitan area. I once knew his street address and room number. I still know the zip code of where he died, since it was the same one he’d had when living at his suburban home of forty-plus years.

How did he die? His death certificate had a heart-related cause of death. How could Dad’s death not involve his heart? At ninety-plus, the hard-working muscle in the middle of his chest must have been exhausted after all those decades. But on dreary days in long meetings, I wonder if dementia murdered him. Yep, I wrote murder. How foolish and melodramatic! But with dementia’s reputation for cruelty and relentlessness, didn’t it destroy Dad’s life as if wielding a thousand, or hundred thousand, paper cuts? At first dementia’s intent and weapons were overlooked, but each cruel, insubstantial slice lead to his demise.

Dad had an ample supply of stubborn in his DNA. He avoided doctors like black cats or sidewalk cracks. Only one neurologist examined him. That brief, awkward visit occurred well after dementia (along with a cranky knee, hearing loss, prostate problems, and a legion of other lesser ills) had its hooks into him. With little enthusiasm, the physician prescribed additional medication and appeared relieved when we departed. Read More →

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Grief On A Busy Street In Australia

How easily technology aids communication…

This is a tale of tears.

I’ve written about crying before. I likely will again. Tears are grief’s soundtrack; weeping is a river that flows through wounded souls.

With my current work in hospice, I lead grief support groups three or four times a year. Maybe there are a dozen participants in each group and so I may annually meet forty new people through the sessions. Before they enter the room, I don’t know most of them.

I also help staff several activities that our hospice sponsors during the year. When added up, hundreds from the community attend these programs for an hour or an afternoon. I won’t know most of them.

One of my key tasks is contacting grieving families after the death. Weekly, I spend hours pressing numbers on a phone’s keypad. I make 10-15 daily calls. There is 50+ a week, 200 or so a month, and perhaps 2,500 a year. With many, I leave messages. Most who answer, when there’s a chance to converse, I don’t know.

I recently (or a year ago) made one of those thousands of phone calls to an “unknown” griever. However, I did know his recently deceased parent. His father was a chaplain at our hospice for several years and we had both attended lengthy patient care meetings together. I’d also talked with patients the father had served as a chaplain. And, given what my job entails, I’d scanned entries in medical charts by this chaplain about his patients.

[Disclaimer.]

He was a good guy and a compassionate chaplain. Soft spoken and sweet, he’d always take the extra minute or hour to listen to someone who was hurting. In meetings, he added supportive reactions or funny comments that would enliven a dull hour.

This chaplain left our hospice for a church or hospital or overseas mission opportunity. (Hey, I want to keep these fake details about his life as ambiguous as possible!)

And then he died. Prostate cancer: one day seemingly healthy, the next day not. Served by the hospice where he’d once worked, he never saw sixty candles on his birthday cake.

Now I called his son. Read More →

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather