Archive for Dying – Page 2

Death Isn’t the Kind of Thin We Want

When cachexic was first spoken to describe a patient during a hospice team meeting, I had no clue what it meant. Nonetheless, as someone who, long-ago and far-away, studied Latin and Greek, I figured the odd word had roots in those languages. Indeed, it does. But I probably would have tossed in extra “Ks” if I’d tried to spell it. And if a nurse demanded I repeat it back to her, I would’ve also failed the pronunciation test.

It’s a clunky, marbles-in-the-mouth type of word for a cruel condition. Here’s what Amber Dance wrote in a still relevant 2012 article for the Los Angeles Times:

“Cachexia (pronounced kuh-KEK-see-uh) is commonly defined as the unintentional loss of 5% or more of a person’s weight within a six-month period. Crucially, it’s muscle that slides off one’s frame, often with fat as well. It’s associated with advanced cancers as well as HIV, heart failure and kidney disease. In layman’s terms, it means “the patient looks awful, they look weak, they’ve lost much of their body mass . . .”

Now I’ll bet it’s easier for you to pronounce the word. Maybe you could even pass a spelling bee. But all things considered, I’d rather never hear the word in a spelling bee or hospice meeting. With those Greek roots wrapped around some of the worst of what can happen to you or a loved one, it won’t surprise anyone to learn it’s similar to pyrexia (an abnormal elevation of body temperature) and dyslexia (a condition of the brain that makes it hard for a person to read, write and spell). Read More →

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Death is (Not) the Enemy

Hospice always fails you. With few exceptions, our patients . . . die.

Death is a defeat, often perceived as a human failure.

Death is to be battled, and everyone schemes to beat it.

Death is a problem to be solved. On the moon-bound and suddenly crippled Apollo 13, Commander James Lovell famously said, “Houston, we’ve had a problem.” The prospect of death, between earth and the moon, between our first wail as a newborn and before whatever last breath is taken, should be confronted and conquered.

Avoid death!

Anyone working in hospice has joined the grim reaper gang. We mingle with the life insurance sellers and funeral directors, the coroners and the grave diggers. We are purveyors and surveyors of the forbidden topic. While the rest of society runs from the dying, we stay.

A hospice nurse, training similar to her counterparts in the hospital corridors and emergency rooms, begins the day with a list of patients to visit. While her colleagues are calming a mother about to give birth or prepping for surgery, and will give their all to bring and extend life, the hospice RN has other thoughts . . .

  • Will my patient die today?
  • How can I help her or him die peacefully?
  • How can I honestly answer the family’s request to know when death will come?

Read More →

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A Hospice Chaplain is Quantifiably Wrong

(*Photo by John Rothwell.)

“The nurses do things that can be quantified,” one of our hospice chaplains announced, “which is not like what us chaplains or the social workers do.”

With hospice, a patient is supported by a “team” of doctors, nurses, social workers, chaplains, home health aides, and volunteers.

Was the chaplain, a person and a professional I respect, correct?

What is quantified? It’s a word describing precision, numbers, and comparisons.

A nurse may ask a patient what her or his pain is like on a scale of 1-to-10 or (especially if a patient can no longer talk) to choose from a range of emoji faces depicting happy smiles to grim anguish. Nurses increase or decrease the precise dosages of medications based on experience, information, and established guidelines.

The medical staff in hospice—and this is one of the tough parts of patient care—needs to regularly report how a patient is declining. If a hospice patient demonstrates consistent improvement in their physical health, they certainly still have an illness (and can’t stop the aging process), but they may no longer be eligible for the hospice benefit.

  • Is the patient losing weight?
  • Does he require stronger doses of pain medication?
  • Is she eating less, or only liquids, compared to last week or month?

Yes, nurses quantify, with specifics, to discern a patient’s changes. Read More →

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