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Death: Why Are We So Afraid Of It?

My cousin’s mother-in-law is in her late 90s. She had horrible osteoporosis and can barely move. She has little cognitive function left. She requires nearly 24-hour care and no one would even attempt to say she has any quality of life left. She told her son years ago that she was “ready to go,” and had had enough.

And yet when I asked my cousin’s husband if his mother had any do-not-resuscitate orders, or had ever completed an advanced director  outlining her wishes of what kind of end-of-life care she wanted, he said no. His sister, he said, just wasn’t ready for that yet. So what, I asked, will you do when/if your mother gets pneumonia? Will you treat it with antibiotics? Will you put her on a respirator? If she is no longer able to eat, will you feed her through a tube?

He couldn’t answer. And he was clearly uncomfortable with the questions. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at A Medical Writer's Musings on Medicine, Health Care, and the Writing Life*

May We All Die So Well

Everyone liked him. Though his later years (the only ones in which I knew him) took away his ability to do most things, and though he was in great pain every day, it was easy to see the mischief in his eyes. The subtle humor was still there, coming out of a man who was weak, in pain, dying.

She lived for him. She was always telling me of his pain, frustrated with the fact that he didn’t tell me enough. She was anxious about each complaint of his, wondering if this was the one that would take him away from her. Many of her problems were driven by this anxiety and fears, and she spent many hours in my office giving witness to them through her tears.

As his health failed, I wondered about her future. He was the center of her life, the source of her energy, joy, purpose. How could she manage life without him? How could she, who had so much lived off of the care of this wonderful man, find meaning and purpose in a life without his calming presence?

Then he died. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Musings of a Distractible Mind*

The Man Who Died Well


One of my favorite patients died last week.

My reaction to this was not quite what you would think: I smiled.  No, I didn’t smile because of his death; I smiled because of his life.  I smiled because I got to be a part of that life.  His death wasn’t his tragic end, it was the exclamation point to his life.

I am around a lot of death – it’s one of the things that makes being a doctor different from other jobs.  My goal with all of my patients is to keep them healthy, to relieve their pain, and to do my best to keep them alive.  Ultimately, though, it’s a losing battle; 100% of them will eventually die.  That’s why I don’t like statistics about how many people who die due to inadequate doctoring.  Our job is to resist an irresistible force.  We are standing up to the hurricane, the avalanche, the flood. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Musings of a Distractible Mind*

Latest Interviews

IDEA Labs: Medical Students Take The Lead In Healthcare Innovation

It’s no secret that doctors are disappointed with the way that the U.S. healthcare system is evolving. Most feel helpless about improving their work conditions or solving technical problems in patient care. Fortunately one young medical student was undeterred by the mountain of disappointment carried by his senior clinician mentors…

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How To Be A Successful Patient: Young Doctors Offer Some Advice

I am proud to be a part of the American Resident Project an initiative that promotes the writing of medical students residents and new physicians as they explore ideas for transforming American health care delivery. I recently had the opportunity to interview three of the writing fellows about how to…

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Latest Book Reviews

Book Review: Is Empathy Learned By Faking It Till It’s Real?

I m often asked to do book reviews on my blog and I rarely agree to them. This is because it takes me a long time to read a book and then if I don t enjoy it I figure the author would rather me remain silent than publish my…

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The Spirit Of The Place: Samuel Shem’s New Book May Depress You

When I was in medical school I read Samuel Shem s House Of God as a right of passage. At the time I found it to be a cynical yet eerily accurate portrayal of the underbelly of academic medicine. I gained comfort from its gallows humor and it made me…

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Eat To Save Your Life: Another Half-True Diet Book

I am hesitant to review diet books because they are so often a tangled mess of fact and fiction. Teasing out their truth from falsehood is about as exhausting as delousing a long-haired elementary school student. However after being approached by the authors’ PR agency with the promise of a…

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