Tag Archives: The Beauty of Hospice

A “Sign” is defined as an object, quality or event whose presence indicates the probable presence of something else.

One day after having read, “Attending the Dying” by my friend Megory Anderson, I found myself at work in the ER. There was a half-naked psychotic lady screaming in the hall, the sound of a beeping ventilator alarm escaped from the curtained room of a man in respiratory failure, and a large crowd was gathering outside of Bed 2 because a matriarch was dying. Although I am accustomed to such visual and auditory chaos, it struck me that my dying patient and her family were not. Further, as I stood in this hall with the family whom I was attempting to shepherd along in creating a good death for their well-loved matriarch, I became acutely aware that I was not following the wise counsel set out by my friend, Megory.

In her brief and powerful tome, “Attending the Dying- A Handbook of Practical Guidelines”- Megory sagely advises those of us who accompany others on their journey towards last breaths. Standing in the bustle and roar of the ER, I could clearly recall her words regarding creating a sacred space for the dying and their loved ones:

“You have the calling and ability to set the stage for a good and holy death.”

“Creating sacred space is one of the first steps in setting the environment apart from day-to-day issues, which in turn helps everyone present remember the sacredness of the event unfolding.”

“Contain or mark the space.”

“Try to make this an intimate experience for the family, within the boundaries of the medical unit.”

“A sign on the door is always appropriate.”

Hmm…I thought, “What I really need is a sign. But what would it say?”

I mused that my favorite sign would go something like this:

“Shut up! Can’t you see that someone is dying in here?”

Being known for my public decorum, however, I decided against this one. But, what?

I could not imagine the family wanting a sign on the door that overtly stated that someone was dying. This would rob them of some of the privacy that I was hoping to create.

I could not come up with anything decent and reasonable on my own so I turned to the experts. In my ER, we have these fabulous humans called “Patient/Family Representatives” whose job is to socially, emotionally and spiritually help support and gain resources for people who are critically ill or dying. If ever there was a font of wisdom, these people are it! So, I presented the idea to them and of course they had the solution and here it is:

quiet please

Ah, now there we go.

This sign promotes respect and privacy without announcing the condition of the patient.

Brilliant!

So, I shared this on twitter and got this interesting response.

Love it! But this has to be “branded” or a commonly understood symbol for uninformed people to understand the message, or this funny response might be the product:

Ha!

So the point is that indeed a sign is often a necessary, simple and powerful tool in defining a sacred space for the dying, particularly in a medical facility. But remember, when creating YOUR OWN signs for this purpose: A “Sign” is defined as an object, quality or event whose presence indicates the probable presence of something else. You have to understand the sign to obey it!

Make sure your sign is recognizable, respectful, and gets the job done.

Thank you, Megory, for teaching us how to better attend the dying and to groom the environment practically and with dignity, even within the chaos of the ER.

*****

To learn more about Megory Anderson’s work visit the Sacred Dying Facebook page

Dr. Megory Anderson was called to a vigil at the bedside of a friend who was dying one night. That experience was so powerful that she began working with others who needed help attending to those who were dying. Today, Anderson is the executive director of the Sacred Dying Foundation in San Francisco, and trains others in the art of “vigiling,” a way of attending to the needs of the dying. She may be reached at: Megory@sacreddying.org

I grew up in just-post-segregation Alabama. In 1976, I was a kindergartener and my best friend was a little black boy named Kendall. We had a lot in common. I would chase him around on the playground and he would eat my crayons. Life was grand or so I thought, until my parents came and had a conference with my kindergarten teacher. The next day we were separated from each other in class. I remember crying to mom in protest saying, “But aren’t we ALL God’s children?”

I still feel the same way today. So, I’m extremely disheartened by the recent increase in racial tensions. But I have something very important to share with you…

Hospice care is the antidote.

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(This photo is of one of my local hospice nurses comforting her patient.)

Hospice is the one social institution in 2015 which contains the seeds of healing for race relations. You may have never had a black, white, yellow or red-skinned person in your home in your entire life. But, if you are a hospice patient, some human with a different skin tone may very well come into your home to love, serve and care for you in ways you didn’t know were possible.

Also, as we travel the end-of-life pathway, we have opportunities to allow old prejudices to fall away in insignificance. Relationship healing and deepening can occur at accelerated rates. Love and even friendship may blossom more easily.

The giving and receiving of hospice care may be one of the most powerful current reminders that “we are ALL God’s children.”

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Please share this message.

#healing #racerelations with #hospice

PS. My parents have long since grown out of their prejudices. No one needs to remain trapped by socio-cultural biases. We can choose a better way.

Most of the time I feel as though I am “running in quicksand” attempting to bring patients to a place of grace and dignity in dying. On occasion, there is someone who jerks me out of my quicksand and plants me squarely on stable shore and then proceeds to show me what grace and dignity in the face of death really look and feel like.

Please meet Mr. Jefferson. Continue reading

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)

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

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

In 1918, if your little brother died in the influenza epidemic, it’s likely that you would have cared for him as he died, at home, and after he died, at home.

In the early 1900s, my grandmother helped care for her own mother in her own home, as she died of cancer. After she died, the family built a coffin and buried her.

This has been the normal pattern of dying and after-death care for all of human history until very recently, as death has become transformed into a life-cyle event which is managed by specialists. Continue reading

Standing up from my computer terminal to go see another patient, I caught a glimpse of a small, spindly frail woman being rolled by paramedics into one of my shock and trauma rooms.

Very calmly, I remarked, “That woman is dying.”

The medical student who was rotating with me was unnerved that I would make such a pronouncement out of a mere casual observance, “Oh my goodness! How can you just say that?” Continue reading