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I live and work in the house medicine. You would think that those of us who have chosen this profession would actually know what dying looks like. Furthermore, one would hope that if the doctor could identify dying, he or she could share this with the patient and family (given that this is fairly significant medical information!). Continue reading

 
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The moral life, the life that transforms lives, begins in the ear, in the act of listening.

                                                            — Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

 

Listening: we take it so much for granted that we have forgotten how to recognize and appreciate its uncommon worth.  We worry about what to do and what to say but not how to hear.  Listening is the first language skill to be acquired by the child.  Listening is a form of art.  It requires long training and a lot of humility.1   We must do it for those who grieve.  Active, involved listening leads to better understanding of others.  Those who grieve need that understanding.  Listening is a rare gift to give.  Sometimes the most healing thing we can do is to listen, just listen. Continue reading

 
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First, click here to watch my video recount of the “Hospice” ER Shift

Ok, well I am neither a good actor, nor producer but don’t let that stand in your way of receiving my message…Hospice care can be activated ANYWHERE within the healthcare system (and even outside of it) when the patient is ready!

The ER (besides the ICU and Surgery Suite) may be one of the most aggressive, intervention-focused areas in the house of medicine. So, if WE can do it, then ANYONE can do it (meaning, transition patients to hospice care when appropriate.)

Here are some tips from my Emergency Department:

1- Signage

ER docs like to look at algorithms. It’s the way we are trained, just open up any ACLS guideline and you will see what I mean. So, in our emergency department we have a sign at each doctor workstation which reads:

“Signs that a person may be ready for hospice care”

  • Weight Loss
  • Increased pain, nausea, fatigue or other symptoms
  • Increased need for assistance
  • Decreased alertness
  • Increased hospitalizations
  • Family exhausted from care-giving demands

(At the bottom of the sign are directions on how to make a referral).

2. Train your staff to screen for hospice readiness

My nurses ask all kinds of questions to patients during their initial screening:

“Do you have any religious, or cultural preferences that might affect your care today?

“Do you feel safe at home?”

“Would you accept blood products to save your life?”

So, you see, we are accustomed to asking deeply probing questions from the get-go, so why not also ask end-of-life screening questions:

“How many times have you been to the ER or hospitalized in the last 6 months?”

“Do you feel like your health is steadily failing with worsening symptoms?”

“Are you feeling tired from the amount of care-giving required for your loved one?”

Identifying the potential hospice-appropriate population goes along way toward getting them the care they need in a more timely manner.

3. Build relationships with local hospice providers

Our hospital has an affiliate relationship with a local not-for-profit hospice who serves as our preferred provider. RNs from this hospice have affiliate hospital privileges at our institution. So, if we call… they come. This takes a huge burden off of the ER staff in transitioning care– our role just becomes one of “screener”- we “screen” the patient and family for physical and emotional “hospice readiness” and then can simply call for a consultation.

OR, if we have a patient who desires another hospice who doesn’t have affiliate privileges, OR if we have a clear-cut, “I want to go home on hospice” patient, then we can simply call the hospice service of choice (make sure their numbers are readily available to the secretary) and have the hospice RN meet them at their home or home facility for intake.

NOT COMPLICATED!

So, the bottom line here is, if we can do it, anyone can do it.

How does your department or institution make hospice referrals easier? Please share!

 

 

     
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My step-father likes to tease a lot. One of his favorite sayings is, “Even a blind bird sometimes gets a worm!” That’s what I feel like with this BIG tip that I am about to share with you…

You see, I serve on the Board of Directors for two non-for-profit hospices (Hospice Family Care and the Los Angeles Hospice at Anam Cara), so I know how hospices are always strenuously brainstorming on how to get more market-share and how to get more referrals. I have on occasion offered a few weak suggestions to which everyone responds in a polite but we’ve-already-tried-that-one kind of way. Let me assure you, this idea is different. This idea is one whose power I learned first-hand as a physician…

So, here it is…

Are you ready?

You’ll never believe you didn’t think of this yourself!

So, simple…

Just have the hospice patient and/or family write a personalized thank-you letter to the referring doctor!!!

Here is why this works. You see, as a doctor, and I know what it’s like to have drug reps and service marketers come up to me and try to get me to use the “best and newest” medication or the “best” service. Do you know what my brain does in response to these requests?

(Yawn…..) Then I think, “Hmm, did you bring donuts?”

OK. Now this is why my recommendation is so radically different…

You see, on the rare occasion that I get a “thank you letter” (and even more, rarely, a “thank you visit”) from a former patient or their families, something totally amazing happens to me.

I feel warmth in my heart. I smile. I forget that I am tired or hungry. For a moment, I think that I have the best job in the whole world… and most importantly, Whatever I did to make that patient or family “thank me”… whatever I did, well I want to do that OVER AND OVER AGAIN!! It’s like hitting the Jackpot in the physician’s heart! He or she will want to do “that” (ie. make that hospice referral) over and over again!

So, when the time is right, bring a pre-addressed stamped envelope bearing the referring physician’s name and office address to your hospice patients and their families. Say something along the lines of this: “If you are grateful for our services, please send your doctor a little thank you note so that he/she will know that he/she made a good decision by referring you to our care. We will even drop it in the mail for you.”

“Ah ha!” you are saying, “Why didn’t I think of that?” :)

thanks

–Again, doctors listen to two groups of people primarily, patients and other doctors. I am happy to be the “other doctor” who makes the argument for hospice as the way to best serve our patients at the end of life! I do this in the easy-to-read book, It’s OK to Die. Give it as a “thank-you” gift to your doctors! For bulk purchases of 10 books or more, the price drops to $8 per book with only $1 shipping per book (in the Continental US). Email me if you are interested in this discount: DrMurphy@oktodie.com

(Photo credit: businessnewsdaily.com)

 
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To Tell the Truth -

The Healer’s Wound: Grief Postponed 

Rea L. Ginsberg, LCSW-C, ACSW, BCD 

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There are truths we can only tell through story. 

                                          – Jonathan Sacks, The Great Partnership 

Everyone has a story.  It is important and precious and unique.  For the teller, it is the most important story in all the world.  It is the story of personal creation.  It tells the world who he is and how he got to be that way.  It is a self-descriptor with a back story.  No other person owns that identical story.  No other person has ever lived that story or will ever have it again.  It makes the teller completely unique for all time. Continue reading

 
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Father's Day- Tim and Darcy

The name of my book is “Bitter and Sweet, A Family’s Journey with Cancer.” Here is a brief summary. In April of 2010, my husband Tim began to have some strange sensations in his side. On May 7, we found ourselves facing stage IV gallbladder cancer rather than a simple gallbladder removal as planned. Five months and one week later, my husband died. Those five months were the most difficult and horrifying time of our lives. It was also an extremely beautiful time for us. We found ourselves using the phrase “bitter and sweet” so often during those five months, that it was an obvious title choice. What follows is the short version of our story…

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Our lives had been full of paradoxes. How do you fight for your life and yet accept mortality at the same time? How do you maintain optimism, which is necessary for health, and prepare for your death and get your affairs in order? How do you understand God’s love and compassion, and yet experience cancer and suffering? Continue reading

   
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Last week we introduced the idea of “fighting” or “embracing” death. We examined the definitions of death and dying, as well as the scientific, pharmaceutical, technological, TV-Hollywood, and musical contributions to our stereotypes. Now, let’s look at some of the remaining sources of death stereotypes, and read the author’s compelling personal story led to his present approach to life and death. Continue reading

 
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If one were to plot a person’s life on a number line, then death would be nothing more than an infinitesimally thin point, nothing more than a nanosecond demarcation from one state of being to another state of being. So why is it that some of us fight death with our last full measure while others embrace it like a new born baby? Continue reading

 
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“Only with death is the story of our lives complete”

~Monica Williams-Murphy, MD

A Eulogy, the recitation of ones life story, is a powerful tool for transformation and growth among survivors. Perhaps, the writer of the eulogy experiences the greatest growth from penning the words. Below is a freshly-written eulogy by one of our readers. Beautiful, simple, even poetic. Afterwards, a short praise of the eulogy and legacy is discussed. Continue reading

       
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I turn 43 on New Year’s Eve, not that you really care, but it does convey a certain perspective to be ending your year in two different ways.

So, as a general rule there are two things for sure with me:

1st- I always work in the ER on my birthday (it’s far more interesting than any party I have ever attended and I get paid to show up!)

2nd- I never make New Years resolutions. Continue reading

     
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(If you are not religious or are atheist, please do not be dissuaded from reading this article by the title:)

We just had a member of our congregation die relatively unexpectedly. He was in his early 50s and a father of 6. (That’s a big equation.)

My religious job is to teach our youth (teenager) Sunday School class, when I am not working in the ER or traveling to lecture. So, in this regard, today was like most other Sundays- I had gotten up early to prepare my lesson for the day. The problem was, the lesson wasn’t relevant for the day…meaning the death of this man was on everyone’s mind, and two of his children were in my class. Continue reading

 
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I sat in silence wrestling with myself, shifting in my seat, as my husband drove down the road. He pointed out some beautiful fall foliage. I looked at the trees but could not appreciate the scenery due to my turmoil. All I could think about was how uncomfortable I was with my father’s hospital discharge plan and how fractured end of life healthcare planning is in some states (specifically, states without a POLST form), states such as mine, Alabama. Since becoming active in advocating for better end of life healthcare planning, I have been a supporter of the POLST for lots of obvious reasons- but most basically, it ensures that the medical system obeys the wishes of the patient or the acting healthcare proxy. I have known abstractly how important such a document is for my patients. But now, a new personal knowledge is dawning for me—I now know firsthand how the LACK of a POLST or POLST-like document actually LIMITS healthcare options for those who are near the end of life! Continue reading

   
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He looked dead. The paramedics brought him down the hall toward one of my critical care beds, and for a moment I thought the patient was dead. He was nearly the same color as the pale sheet covering his thin frame. His cheeks were sunken in and his eyes were gazing upward, in what I sometimes call the “death stare.” Then, surprisingly, he moved his arm upward to push his oxygen mask off of his face, resting it atop his head like one would wear a pair of glasses not in use. Continue reading