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“Blog Rally” About End-Of-Life Care: My Story

The successful “Engage with Grace” campaign resulted in ~95 bloggers promoting end-of-life care discussions with family members over Thanksgiving. Paul Levy called it the first “medical blog rally on the Internet.” I wonder how many readers took the challenge?

I spent Thanksgiving with my sister (mom of 3) and brother-in-law in Michigan.  After our dinner (with the kids tucked in for the night) we enjoyed a glass of wine and a game of Cranium (if you haven’t tried this game yet, you might want to pick one up in time for the next group of holidays – it’s like Pictionary, Charades, Trivial Pursuit, and American Idol wrapped into one). I looked for an opportunity to “pop the question” on end-of-life issues.

During a brief lull between rock song humming I casually inquired about whether or not my sister and brother-in-law had a living will. They said they hadn’t thought of it but agreed that it would be important to have one. We discussed various scenarios related to organ donation, end-of-life care, and cremation vs. burial preferences. Things degenerated a bit as I asked what their individual preferences might be for resuscitation under special circumstances (it was almost like a scene from Monty Python – “So, if you had no arms and no legs and you had a 10% chance of normal brain function recovery, would you like to be tube fed? How about if you had one leg and half an arm and a 5% chance of mental recovery? What about if you had 1/2 a liver, no spleen, and only one eye worked, but you COULD do math questions?”) We all had a good laugh at the black humor, but recognized that something important underlay the jesting. There is no doubt that we each had a 100% chance of dying at some point during our lives.

And then something unexpected happened – my brother-in-law looked me in the eye and said, “If anything happened to us, we’d really love it if you took our children and raised them as your own.”

I was very touched and happily agreed to do so. I replied with a wagging finger, “Now this doesn’t mean that you should take up helmet-free motorcycling…”

We all had a good chuckle and returned to Cranium, each feeling a little richer for the experience – we knew how we’d like to be cared for in case of critical illness, and I’d become the proud new godmother of 3.


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4 Responses to ““Blog Rally” About End-Of-Life Care: My Story”

  1. Bruce says:

    Dear Val,

    We had a similar discussion around our table after dinner on Saturday…ages ranging from 18 to 93. It was very useful and, at times, even surprising.

    One of the questions asks if there is “someone you trust that you’ve appointed to advocate on your behalf when your time is near.” The family all looked at me and decided that since I am so cheap, I might let them go just to save some money. Hmmm…I think they were kidding…

    Interestingly, we also had a discussion based on a 10% chance of recovery v. a 5% chance. No resolution on the appropriate breakpoint.

    This was a very useful excersice! I, too, encourage people to go to the website (www.engagewithgrace.org) and discuss the five questions.

  2. I participated in the rally. I prefaced the standard post with a personal reflection from having talked about it when I faced death last year. And I posted my answers in a comment on that post.

    It’s really not that difficult a discussion to have once you’ve acknowledged that the moment really is in the future. Sorta like knowing sooner or later you’re getting on a plane to Milwaukee, and if you’re willing, you can choose a flight and answer “Window or aisle?” now.

    (I like Milwaukee just fine. Don’t change the subject. :) )

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