Archive for Questions

Do You Want to Die?

From HBO’s Band of Brothers

In the opening moments of our weekly hospice team meetings we report on recent patient deaths. How is the family doing? Who was with the person when she died? Was the mortuary and physician informed of his death? If a patient fell during her hospice stay, was the coroner contacted (even the most benign of stumbles requires legal notification)? Did she have a peaceful death? The final words on the medical chart summarizing patients’ deaths are intentionally brief and accurate, not much longer than this paragraph.

As we finished the report on a patient, a nurse spontaneously added, “She died quickly, which is what she wanted because she didn’t want a long, drawn-out death.”

The nurse’s final comment wasn’t necessary for the sparse report. I recollect the patient died comfortably, with family at the bedside. All went as well as possible. But I caught myself wondering: Don’t we all hope to die quickly?

Would anyone want to have a “long, drawn-out death?”

Indeed, who wants to die? I don’t. Read More →

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Hospice is Far from Perfect

My finger reached for the first number to press on the phone’s keypad.

I hesitated. I silently prayed.

Since starting at my hospice job in 2012, I’ve averaged maybe fifty weekly bereavement phone calls, which means about 200 families per month. You can do the math . . . I’ve logged considerable phone time over the years! Some calls occur mere days after patients have died. Others are close to the one-year anniversary of the parent or child or spouse’s death. Because of my access to confidential patient information, and talking with the chaplains, social workers and nurses, I know details about a patient’s dying and the family’s reactions. In a few moments at a computer, I’ll read about conflicts between siblings, a spouse’s fears and—if I choose to scrutinize the medical charts—even what happened on the twelfth visit by the home health aide. Read More →

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I Hope You Don’t Feel Like You’re a Burden?

Whenever I entered a patient’s home as a hospice chaplain, much seemed the same. The patient might be rich or poor, young or old, but they were invariably surrounded by the benchmarks of a life-threatening illness: hospital beds, oxygen tanks, commodes, medication bottles.

Still, with eyes and heart open, I knew everyone, and ever situation, was unique.

How can one patient, facing death, glow with kindness? How can another, also confronted by death, appear mired in bitterness? Of course, it’s like that with everyone, in all seasons and places. One child laughs, another child sulks. One employee bounces through the Monday morning office door, while the next slouches in with a grim, don’t-tread-on-me expression. Voices and fingerprints and more confirm that we are the lonely or lovely stars of our one-person road show.

And so, I sit beside a patient’s hospital bed. Read More →

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