Why planning for death should start when we’re living

Dr. B.J. Miller.

by Jonathan Bastian

Death and dying are inevitable and a natural part of life’s cycle. The pandemic has brought the issue of our own mortality into sharp focus. Many people have died alone, away from family, and in the isolation unit of a hospital.  It’s not an option many would choose. Palliative care expert Dr. B.J. Miller talks with KCRW’s Jonathan Bastian about his experiences caring for those who are at the end of their lives. He says one of the big takeaways of this moment is that we should make preparations and think about our mortality when we are healthy.  

The following interview excerpts have been abbreviated and edited for clarity. 

KCRW: You’ve spent countless hours with folks that are nearing the end of their life. What do people want as they prepare to die?

B.J. Miller: Well, in general there’s a ton of individual variation. This is why the subject is so interesting and that’s where some of the joy is. For the most part people want to be at home when they die. And by home, most people mean not the hospital and not the nursing home. Dying at home is doable, especially with hospice. But again here, what I really think people mean is they want to die in familiar settings, where they’re comfortable surrounded by people they love, wherever they call home. In other words, to have a minimum of gear and machines propping them up. A lot of people find peace, in the realization that they are natural creatures and that death is a natural phenomenon. And the more they can touch into that nature, the more at peace they feel, as a rule. But some of us see ourselves as fighters and quote unquote, “when I go down, I go down swinging,” and the idea of an ICU death with desperate measures happening, is fitting, so to each their own.

But to answer your question, dying at home, dying in a more natural way, dying comfortably enough so that you can have time with people you care about. So you can think about anything you know, something besides your pain for a moment here and there. People want to be at peace with their loved ones.

The idea of closure is an invented notion. Nature doesn’t promise us closure except for the idea of birth and death. But a lot of us are just social creatures and are thinking about our legacy, what do we leave behind? So a lot of people say, I just want to make sure I’m not a burden to my family. I want to make sure my family is okay.

It makes sense because I think a lot of what’s dying is the ego and the more each of us can find a way to to love life outside of ourselves beyond ourselves, but inclusive of ourselves, the easier death is on us, the more readily we can, we can handle it.

As we navigate this pandemic, it highlights some of the breakdown in the healthcare system in dealing with death?

The last thing any of us wants to do is shame each other as we’re heading off the planet. But this is exactly why — whether it’s COVID, being hit by a bus, the idea of a sudden death, of suddenly being here and then not being here, that’s always possible — when we make this subject matter taboo — hard to talk about, and the healthcare system doesn’t make it any easier and doctors aren’t trained to talk about it — we end up kind of deferring the inevitable until it’s really too late.

So one of the takeaways right now is we should all be doing our advanced care planning, our wills, our healthcare proxy, the variable putting our affairs, we should all be thinking about our mortality, if only to make sure we are present for the life we have. These are lessons that have been in the population for eons but are easily forgotten because death is such an obnoxious topic, especially in modern society. But we can be swept away in an instant and it would be so helpful to have had these conversations with loved ones before and document our wishes, especially when we’re healthy because you just never know.

You worked at the Zen Hospice Center for a long time in San Francisco, is there a spiritual dimension that you are aware of being around death for so long?

You know, I don’t know what word I like, religion, faith, spirituality, they’re all importantly different. I believe that we are all connected not just person to person, but person to tree, person to chipmunk, person or whatever, that we’re all part of something that we can’t possibly fathom. And as smart as we are, there’s still so much we don’t know. So there’s got to be some deference to mystery, some deference to not knowing.

You can look at that void or that abyss or that mystery and project judgments or you can project a sort of a universal love. For me, I happen to believe that, in general, adjectives and qualifications are human invention. But one way or another, I look at that mystery, I feel all that connection and I see love. I see humility in all that we don’t know and yet are totally a part of.

You can imagine how much this comes up when you’re dealing with patients and families, friends, anybody at the end of life.  If I can sit with a patient and they’re in the throes of wondering what’s going to happen, maybe scared about what’s going to happen when they die, I often end up just talking with people about mystery and about not knowing and say, “Well, you know, I don’t know either, you know, I’ve been around death and dying for a lot of a lot of years and a lot of people and I still have no idea. And you know, isn’t that amazing?”

When I look up in the night sky, and I can see all these stars and light that’s hitting my eyes that left that source billions of years ago, empirically, there’s enough proof of connection among us or fascination around us. I’m coaxed into a faith that love is somewhere binding us. And even if it’s not the natural order, it’s certainly something that we inject and put love and meaning into this mystery.

And so sitting at the bedside, there’s a permissiveness at the end of life that I’ve come kind of addicted to, because if you’re with someone who’s only going to be around for a while, you can quickly go to the vulnerable place, you can quickly love someone without fear of Gosh, if I tell them, I love them, they’re gonna get expectations and you don’t have to talk yourself out of this very simple thing of loving someone.

So at the end of life, I don’t know what’s coming either but I’m gonna sit here with you and we’ll walk up to the edge of that abyss with you and I’m not going to go anywhere. And I’ll be thinking of you even after you’re gone and I love you, and we get to share this planet at the same time. Isn’t that amazing?

Complete Article HERE!

Patients overestimate the success of CPR

Doctors should discuss CPR to clarify and inform patients before they consent to it, say researchers

Patients and the general public appear to significantly overestimate the success of cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and underestimate the negative impact it can have on a person’s health, suggests research published online in Emergency Medicine Journal.

US researchers have therefore recommended clinicians discuss CPR with patients and their loved ones to clarify the practice’s success rate and the real benefits and risks involved before patients or their families are asked to consent to it.

Emergency physicians often talk to patients or their families about end-of-life care and the outcomes of resuscitation efforts. Patient and family preconceptions of CPR can have a significant effect on the tone of discussions and the subsequent medical care provided.

Previous studies have shown that most lay people overestimate the success of CPR and underestimate its morbidity but no studies on the subject have been carried out amongst patients and visitors in an emergency department.

Patients in previous studies have cited television as a large source of their belief that rates of survival after CPR vary between 19% and 75%, whereas actual rates of survival of CPR range from an average of 12% for out-of-hospital cardiac arrests to 24-40% for in-hospital arrests.

Therefore, a team of researchers from the University of California in the US carried out a survey of 500 emergency department patients and their companions to assess their expectations and examine whether or not variation in information sources, prior exposure to CPR, and healthcare experience would influence peoples’ predicted CPR success rates.

The survey was carried out amongst adults in the emergency department waiting area within a tertiary care hospital in Sacramento, California, between June and September 2016.

An “optimism scale” was created to reflect expected likelihood of survival after CPR, or CPR success, under several sets of circumstances.

Results showed that of the 500 respondents, more than half (53%) had performed or witnessed CPR, and/or participated in a CPR course (64%).

Television was the main source of information about CPR for around 95% of respondents.

At least half of the people interviewed estimated the success rate of CPR as being more than 75% in all situations. The estimated CPR success rates were unrelated to age, sex, race, spiritual beliefs or personal healthcare experience.

The vast majority (90%) of people interviewed said they wanted to receive CPR if it was possibly needed.

Comments also revealed that only 28% of respondents had discussed CPR with a physician, but most participants believed that a physician should talk to them about their CPR preference.

The study had some limitations such as the fact that it took place at a single institution and for convenience, the sample only included English speakers which limits the generalisability of findings. Some participants might also have been distracted by illness or the emergency department waiting area environment.

Nevertheless, the researchers conclude: “Patients and visitors to an emergency department, regardless of prior healthcare or CPR experience, overestimate the likelihood of success with CPR.

“These findings should prompt emergency department physicians to initiate discussions about resuscitation with their patients while also providing them with key information to help facilitate informed decision-making.

“When discussing CPR preferences, emergency department providers should focus on true rates of survival and outcomes in any shared decision-making conversation and should not assume that a patient or companion with healthcare experience will have realistic expectations.”

Related Article HERE!

‘I Couldn’t Let Her Be Alone’

– A Peaceful Death Amid the COVID Scourge

Patti Breed-Rabitoy had coped with lung and kidney disease for years but remained a vital, bubbly presence in the lives of her husband, Dan Rabitoy, and three grown children.

By JoNel Aleccia

As her mother lay dying in a Southern California hospital in early May, Elishia Breed was home in Oregon, 800 miles away, separated not only by the distance, but also by the cruelty of the coronavirus.

Because of the pandemic, it wasn’t safe to visit her mom, Patti Breed-Rabitoy, who had entered a hospital alone, days earlier, with a high fever and other symptoms that were confirmed to be caused by COVID-19.

Breed-Rabitoy, 69, had suffered from lung and kidney disease for years but remained a vital, bubbly presence in the lives of her husband, Dan Rabitoy, and three grown children. She was a longtime church deacon and youth leader in Reseda, California, a fan of garage sales, bingo games and antique dolls. Then came COVID-19, likely contracted in late April following one of her thrice-weekly dialysis sessions. Now she lay sedated and on a ventilator, her life ebbing, with no family by her side.

“I had seen these things on TV and I would pray for those people and say, ‘I can’t imagine what they’re going through,’” said Breed, 44. “And now I was living it.”

A single mom of two young sons, she was wrenched with guilt at not being with her mother. “You always picture you’re going to be right by your parent’s side,” she said.

Unlike many families of dying COVID patients, Breed and her family were able to find some comfort in her mother’s final hours because of the 3 Wishes Project, a UCLA Health end-of-life program repurposed to meet the demands of the coronavirus crisis. In the U.S., where more than 120,000 people have died of COVID, it’s part of a wider push for palliative care during the pandemic.

At 5 p.m. on May 10, Mother’s Day, before Breed-Rabitoy’s life support was removed, more than a dozen family members from multiple cities and states gathered on a Zoom call to say goodbye. John Denver’s “Rocky Mountain High,” one of her soft-rock ’70s favorites, played on speakers. Online, a chaplain prayed.

Breed-Rabitoy had been deeply sedated for more than a week, since a terrible night when she struggled to breathe and asked doctors to place her on the ventilator. Confusion abounded, Breed said. Could her mom still hear in that state? Two nights in a row, Breed asked nurses to prop a phone near her mom’s ear.

“I prayed with her. I sang her favorite songs. I read her the Bible,” she said.

Finally, a nurse gently explained that her mother was too sick to recover. If they removed the ventilator, it would be to allow her to die.

That’s when hospital staffers described the 3 Wishes program and asked whether the family had any personal requests for her last moments. They decided on the music and the family Zoom call. Dan Rabitoy requested that a nurse hold his wife’s hand as she died.

After it was over, family members received keychains stamped with her fingerprint and a copy of the electrocardiogram of the last beats of her heart.

“I’m grateful to have these keepsakes,” Breed said. “All these things have been healing.”

The project was developed in Canada but co-launched at UCLA Health in 2017 by Dr. Thanh Neville, an intensive care physician who serves as 3 Wishes’ medical director. It aims to make the end of life more dignified and personalized by fulfilling small requests for dying patients and their families in the ICU.

Before COVID-19, the program had granted nearly 1,600 wishes for more than 450 patients, nearly all in person. The deathbed scenarios have varied, from music and aromatherapy at the bedside to meeting a patient’s request for one last mai tai cocktail.

“We’ve done weddings and mariachi bands and opera singers and 20 to 30 family members who could come in and celebrate,” said Neville, 41. “And none of this is possible anymore.”

COVID-19 has “changed everything,” said Neville, a researcher who focuses on improving ICU care for the dying. Also a clinician, she spent weeks this spring tending to seriously ill COVID patients. Since March, her hospital system has seen more than two dozen COVID deaths.

In the beginning, visitors were strictly prohibited. Now, some may come — but many don’t.

“I would still say the majority of COVID patients die without families at their bedside,” Neville said. “There are a lot of reasons why they can’t come in. Some are sick or old or they have small kids. A lot of people don’t want to take that risk and bring it home.”

It has been hard to keep 3 Wishes going during a time when in-person memorials and celebrations are banned and infection control remains the primary focus. Neville even had to change the way the fingerprint keychains were made. Now, they’re treated with germicidal irradiation, the same method that lets health care workers reuse N95 masks.

The 3 Wishes Project is offered when death is imminent: Patients are enrolled after a decision has been made to withdraw life-sustaining technology or if the chance of death is greater than 95%. The program was created to help patients, caregivers and clinicians navigate the dying process in a less clinical, more humane way. Wishes needn’t be limited to three, and they can be articulated by patients, family members or hospital staffers.

The program is based on palliative care tenets that focus on the humanity of the patient amid intensive medical care, said Dr. Rodney Tucker, president of the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine. Seemingly small acts that honor an individual life help counter the efficiency-driven environment of the ICU, which can be dehumanizing. They’re at the core of care that has been shown to ease both angst for the dying and grief for those who loved them. “It helps the family that’s left behind cope more successfully with the loss,” he said.

Such efforts also remind providers of the humanity of their practice, which can help them cope with the stress of witnessing death daily, especially during something as extraordinary as a pandemic, he said.

A study published by Neville and colleagues last year found that 3 Wishes is a “transferrable, affordable, sustainable program” that benefits patients, families, clinicians and their institutions. They calculated that the mean cost of a single wish, funded by grants and donations, was $5.19.

Genevieve Arriola, 36, has been a critical care nurse for eight years. When the pandemic struck, she found herself juggling medical care and emotional support more than ever. She took care of Breed-Rabitoy for three days straight, all the while communicating with the dying woman’s family.

“This was a very delicate situation for someone who is married to her for over 20 years and a daughter who was miles away in Oregon and couldn’t see her mom,” she said.

She was also the nurse who held Breed-Rabitoy’s hand as she died.

“I pretty much felt honored to be that person,” Arriola said. “I couldn’t let her be alone. If no one can be there, I can.”

Weeks after her mother’s death, Breed is grappling with the loss. The last time she saw her mom was March 16, at a McDonald’s off Interstate 5 near Grants Pass, Oregon.

The pair met for less than 30 minutes before Breed-Rabitoy headed south down the interstate, her long-planned family visit cut short by concerns about COVID. She had just learned that the local dialysis center was closed to outside patients, and she was worried about growing reports of infection and death. “She told me, ‘I feel like this disease is coming after me,’” Breed recalled.

Now, the keepsakes from 3 Wishes are placed where Breed can see them every day.

“It added such a level of love and dignity we weren’t expecting,” she said. “It made the process of losing a loved one to COVID-19 so much more bearable.”

Complete Article HERE!

How I Spent My Summer Vacation 2020

Only the most avid readers of this blog may recall a similarly titled posting, How I Spent My Summer Vacation, from August 1, 2016.

St. Joseph Hospital Main Campus

Well, here it is nearly five years later and I have another harrowing experience to tell you about.

Three months ago, I started having some pain in my left shoulder while walking. (Actually, the shoulder pain started three years ago. But after a stress test scheduled by my GP a year ago, to confirm if this was discomfort was heart related, and the test coming back negative, I decided that the pain was structural. I just figured that I had bursitis.) In fact, all symptoms disappeared after the stress test. Go figure!

Anyhow, the shoulder pain reappeared in March. This time around, it began to radiate down my arm. Soon I couldn’t do any kind of walking, let alone hiking, without discomfort. This was a bit of a problem because I’m an avid walker. Two months ago, the shoulder pain began to radiate not only down my arm but into my arm pit and then into my chest and back.

By this time even I knew that this wasn’t no stinkin’ bursitis.

At the behest of my GP, I reached out to my cardiologist again. I had just had a major pain episode that nearly brought me to my knees, and I wanted his input. At the appointment the cardiologist showed only minor concern. He said he wanted me to do another stress test in 30 days and then see him again in six weeks, the end of July. I couldn’t believe it. I was exhibiting all the classic symptoms of angina and I thought I needed more than a promise of a stress test and a follow visit.

At the end of the appointment, as the doctor was leaving the exam room, I said; “What am I supposed to do about all this crippling pain?” “Oh,” he replied, “I’ll write you a prescription for nitro glycerin. When you begin to experience pain, pop a tab under your tongue. This will give you relief.” And so, it did. It was kinda miraculous actually.

Problem was, I needed to pop a tab at least once a day, often twice a day.

When my GP discovered that I was doing so much nitro, he became very proactive. He ordered a chest x-ray, a CT scan, and some blood work. He wanted to rule out lung problems among other things.

When my first nitro glycerin script was nearly exhausted, I call the cardiologist for a refill. His nurse freaked out at the amount of nitro I was taking and said; “Nitro glycerin is supposed to be used sparingly, for emergencies.” I replied; “Well, then I’m having emergencies each and every day, and often twice a day.”

Apparently, this nurse’s concern lit a fire under my cardiologist. She told me that the doctor now wanted me to skip the stress test, still weeks in the future, and come in for an angiogram. He had an opening on July 2nd. Could I last two more weeks? I didn’t think so.

Meanwhile, my GP wanted me to consult with another cariology practice in Bellingham, 45 miles from where I live. Since I had lost all confidence in the local cardiologist, I agreed. In a matter of hours, I was set up with the PeaceHealth cardiology practice. I was to call the next day and set up an appointment with the next available cardiologist. Things were that critical. Last Friday morning I called and set up an appointment for the following Tuesday.

PeaceHealth Logo

My GP also insisted that I call 911 if my pain increased.

That night, Friday night, it did. Despite popping two nitro glycerin tabs in three hours I was still in acute pain and short of breath.

At about 10:30pm I woke up Steve and asked him to drive me to Emergency Receiving at Island Hospital.

Once in the ER, I was immediately strapped to a heart monitor, blood was drawn, and arrangements were made to medivac me to St Joseph Hospital in Bellingham. The first blood test revealed normal levels of the cardiac enzyme which measures the levels of enzymes and proteins that are linked with injury of the heart muscle. I thought that was good news. Four hours later, still in the Island Hospital ER, there was another blood draw. This time the cardiac enzyme reading had spiked. The doctor told me I must have had a heart attack in the interim.

I languished for ten hours in the Island Hospital ER. They were having a problem finding transportation to Bellingham.

At 9:30am Saturday morning I was finally on my way to St. Joe’s.

Once there, I was placed in the Cardiac ICU where I was poked and prodded to within an inch of my life. I also got an echocardiogram. I had had no food or water since the previous evening. I was exhausted and, I’ll admit, frightened.

Being the good little end of life educator that I am, I had the foresight to bring along a copy of my POLST (Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment) form. The ICU nurses were so surprised that I had this important document with me. They said they never see patients being this proactive.

At the top of the POLST form, the very first question asked is about Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation Orders. One can either choose: YES CPR: Attempt Resuscitation, including mechanical ventilation, defibrillation and cardioversion (or) NO CPR: Do Not Attempt Resuscitation. I had chosen the second, NO CPR. I hadn’t come to this decision lightly, but it did reflect my deepest held feelings about end of life care for myself.

Later that afternoon I had my first encounter with the cardiac surgeon. He sauntered into my room as brusque as you please and announced that he wouldn’t even consider the life-saving treatment I needed, an angioplasty, if I didn’t change my POLST form to allow a full code should complications arise during the procedure. I was absolutely stunned! I was being held hostage at this most vulnerable point of my life. And for what?

Cardiac surgeons are at the pinnacle of the medical pantheon and most have egos that surpass their bountiful skills. They almost never encounter resistance from anyone, least of all from a lowly patient. But I stood my ground.

“Are you telling me that you won’t save my life if I don’t grant you a full code?”

He responded; “Yes, my hands are tied.”

I couldn’t believe my ears. I tried to explain why I had chosen the DNR (Do Not Resuscitate). He just blew me off. He was so condescending and patronizing. My efforts to defend my choices fell on deaf ears. I could just imagine him thinking; how adorable is this? A layman trying to play doctor with the big boys? The standoff continued.

“Why do we even have POLST forms?” I asked.

“They are for emergencies.” He responded.

“So, and EMT (Emergency Medical Technician) or an ER doc would be constrained by my POLST, but not you, a cardiologist? I see! Actually, I don’t see. This is ridiculous.”

He just stared at me.

You know how this is gonna end, huh?

In the end I sheepshly relented. What could I do? I was so bummed.

The cardiologist walked out of the room without another word and I had no idea where I stood.

Hours later, I asked one of the nurses; “Will I be getting the angiogram, or not?” He didn’t have an answer. Nothing like adding anxiety to an already overburdened heart.

Around 6:00pm two burly nurses stopped outside my room with a gurney. “Let’s get you up here.” One said pointing to the gurney. “What’s going on?” I asked. “Time for your angioplasty.” And just like that I was wheeled off.

I guess it was determined that my case was critical, and no time could be wasted in attending to me, POLST form be damned. My echocardiogram showed a major blockage in my already weakened heart. An hour and a half later I was the recipient of two brand-spankin’ new heart stints, don’t cha know.

Heart Stent

I’ll spare you the gory details of my recovery. I’ve gone on too long already. Suffice to say that with the assistance of a cohort of amazing nurses and other support staff, I am here to relate this story to you. God bless ‘em all!

There are a lot of lessons to be learned here, not least of all is our right to choose the end of life path we desire despite the pressures of conflicting interests. And how we ought to stick to our guns because our wishes are sacred all bullying aside. But the biggest lesson and…

The Moral Of This Story Is
My friends, life is short! Live every day like it’s your last. Be kind to yourself and those around you. Because, in a twinkling of an eye, it can and WILL be over.

The End

End-Of-Life Planning Is A ‘Lifetime Gift’ To Your Loved Ones

By Kavitha Cardoza

Talking about death makes most of us uncomfortable, so we don’t plan for it.

That’s a big mistake, because if you don’t have an end-of-life plan, your state’s laws decide who gets everything you own. A doctor you’ve never met could decide how you spend your last moments, and your loved ones could be saddled with untangling an expensive legal mess after you die.

Betsy Simmons Hannibal, a senior legal editor at legal website Nolo, puts it this way: Planning for the end of life isn’t about you. “You’re never going to really get the benefit of it. So you might as well think about how it’s going to be a lifetime gift that you’re giving now to your parents or your partner or your children. It really is for the people you love.”

Here are some simple, practical steps to planning for the end of life. These tips aren’t meant to be legal or medical advice, but rather a guide to ease you into getting started.

1. Name an executor.

If you’re an adult, you should have a will, says Hannibal. Estate planning is not just for the rich. “It’s not just about the value of what you own. It’s also the feelings that you and your loved ones have about what you own.”

If you own lots of valuable stuff — real estate, trust funds, yachts — you probably need a lawyer. But for most of us, a simple document could do. Your state or county bar associations usually keep a list of lawyers who do this pro bono. Or you could download an online form like Quicken WillMaker & Trust for less than $100. (Full disclosure: Hannibal works for Nolo, which owns Quicken WillMaker & Trust.)

She says the first thing you do is name (in writing) a person whom you trust to take care of everything when you die. In most states that person is called an executor; in some they’re called a personal representative.

Hannibal says it’s a good idea to choose someone from your family. “The most important thing is that you have a good relationship with them — and also that they have a good attention to detail, because it’s a lot of work to be someone’s executor.”

An executor would have to, for example, find all your financial assets and communicate with everyone you’ve named in your will. It’s a big ask, so Hannibal says just be upfront. She suggests asking the person directly, “Would you be comfortable wrapping up my estate when I die?”

2. Take an inventory.

List everything you own, not just things that are financially valuable — such as your bank accounts, retirement savings or car — but also those things that have sentimental value: a music or book collection, jewelry, furniture. Then list whom you want to leave what to.

If you have young children, name a guardian for them. Choose carefully, because that person will be responsible for your child’s schooling, health care decisions and value system.

Hannibal says pets are considered property under the law, so she suggests naming a new owner so that the state doesn’t do it for you.

Digital accounts are also part of your property. This includes social media accounts, online photos, everything in, say, your Google Drive or iCloud, online subscriptions, dating site profiles, credit card rewards, a business on Etsy or Amazon. Hannibal suggests keeping a secure list of all those accounts and the login and password details. Let your executor know where the list is.

Just as you write out specific instructions about your physical belongings, be clear about what you’d like to happen with your online information.

She says it’s better not to have a handwritten will, because proving you wrote it will require a handwriting expert. So keep it simple. Just type out your wishes and have two witnesses watch you sign and date it. Then have them do the same. Hannibal says by signing it, “they believe that the person who made the will is of sound mind, and that’s a pretty low bar.”

You don’t need to file your will anywhere; neither do you need to get it notarized for it to be legally binding. And don’t hide it. Hannibal says just tell your executor where you’ve kept a copy.

Remember that your decisions will change over time. So if you have a child, buy a house or fall out with a family member, update your will.

3. Think about health care decisions.

Your will takes care of what happens after you die. An advance directive is a legal document that covers health care and protects your wishes at the end of your life.

There are two parts to an advance directive. The first is giving someone your medical power of attorney so the person can make decisions for you if you can’t. The other part is called a living will. That’s a document where you can put in writing how you should be cared for by health professionals.

Jessica Zitter is an ICU and palliative care physician in Oakland, California. She says that we’ve become experts at keeping people alive but that quality of life can be forgotten.

She has seen thousands of situations of loved ones making difficult and emotional decisions around a hospital bed. It’s worse when family members disagree about a course of action.

You know the saying “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now”? Zitter says with the coronavirus in the news every day, more people are realizing that these end-of-life conversations are important. “That tree was always important to plant. But now we really have a reason to really, really plant it. … That time is now.”

You may have heard of Five Wishes, which costs $5 and will walk you through choices, or Our Care Wishes, which is free.

4. Name a medical proxy.

Pallavi Kumar is a medical oncologist and palliative care physician at the University of Pennsylvania. Kumar says the most important medical decision you can make is to choose a person who can legally make health care decisions for you if you can’t. This person is sometimes called a medical proxy or a health care agent. Naming the person is the first part of the advance directive.

“Think about the person in your life who understands you, your goals, your values, your priorities and then is able to set aside their own wishes and be a voice for you,” she says. You want someone you trust who can handle stress, in case your loved ones disagree on what to do.

5. Fill out a living will.

After you’ve chosen your medical proxy (and named a backup), you need to think about what kind of care you want to receive. There’s no right or wrong; it’s very personal. The document that helps you do that is called a living will. It’s part two of the advance directive.

A living will addresses questions such as “Would you want pain medication?”; “Do you want to be resuscitated?”; and “Would you be OK being hooked up to a ventilator?”

Kumar says she asks her patients what’s important to them and what their goals are. For some with young children, it means trying every treatment possible for as long as possible, no matter how grueling.

“They would say, ‘If you’re telling me that a chemotherapy could give me another month, I want that month. Because that’s another month I have with my 6-year-old.’ ”

Other patients might want the exact opposite. “They would say, ‘I’ve gone through a lot of treatments and I … feel I’m not having as many good days with my kids. So if the disease gets worse, I want to spend that time at home.’ ”

Kumar says even among patients who are very sick with cancer, fewer than half have had conversations about how they want to die. So talk about your wishes. Once you’ve filled out the advance directive forms, share your decisions with your medical proxy, your loved ones and your doctor.

6. Don’t forget the emotional and spiritual aspects of death.

How you want to die is personal and about much more than just the medical aspect. For some, it’s about being at peace with God; for others, it’s being kept clean. Still others don’t want to be left alone, or they want their pets close by.

Angel Grant and Michael Hebb founded the project Death Over Dinner to make it easier for people to talk about different aspects of death as they eat. “The dinner table is a very forgiving place for conversation. You’re breaking bread together. And there’s this warmth and connection,” says Grant.

Some of the emotional and spiritual questions people talk about are “You were just in a big quake and death is imminent. What are you concerned about not having done?”; “What do you want to be remembered for?”; and “If you could have any musician play at your funeral, who would it be?”

Grant says reflecting on death automatically forces you to think about your life. “That’s the magic of it,” she says.

“We think it’s going to be morbid and heavy. But what these conversations do is they narrow down our understanding of what matters most to us in this life, which then gives us actionable steps to go forward living.”

Grant doesn’t believe a “good death” is an oxymoron. “A good death is subjective, but there are some things that I have heard over and over again for many years at death dinners. … A good death is being surrounded by love, knowing you have no emotional or spiritual unfinished business.”

Complete Article HERE!

Last wishes and clear choices

– Learning how to talk about end-of-life care

Before patients can state their preferences about dying, they need to talk about them first.

By

Conversations around end-of-life medical care can be challenging. Consider someone I’ll call Mrs. Jones, an elderly patient with advanced heart disease. When her doctor asked her to discuss the kind of care she wanted to receive at the end of her life, Mrs. Jones said that she had devoted a lot of thought to the matter and had clear instructions she wanted her family to follow.

First Mrs. Jones wanted to be buried near her family – above ground – and she wanted her grave to be covered with yellow and white flowers. Second, she wanted to be laid out not in a dress but in her nightgown and robe. And finally, she wanted to be buried with a treasured photograph of her boyfriend, which showed a handsome young man in military uniform.

But her doctor was asking a different question. Specifically, she needed to know how Mrs. Jones wanted the medical team to care for her as she was dying. Mrs. Jones said that she hadn’t thought about end-of-life care, but she would like to learn more about her options.

After discussing the choices, Mrs. Jones expressed some clear preferences. “I know for a fact that I not want to undergo chest compressions, and I don’t want anyone using tubes to breathe for me or feed me.” Her doctor arranged for Mrs. Jones’ daughter to join the conversation. The conversation wasn’t easy – Mrs Jones and her daughter cried as they talked – but afterward they were grateful that they had shared everything so openly.

Shilpee Sinha, MD, Mrs. Jones’ doctor, has these conversations every day. She is the lead physician for palliative care at Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis, where she specializes in the care of dying patients. She also teaches medical students and residents how to provide better care for patients at the end of life.

Sinha is part of a relatively small cadre of such doctors nationwide. It is estimated that only about 4,400 doctors specialize in the care of terminally ill and dying patients. The US is currently facing a shortage of as many as 18,000 of these specialists. There is only one palliative care specialist for 20,000 older adults living with severe chronic illness.

On average, 6,800 Americans die every day. The majority of deaths are anticipated. Consider that about 1.5 million people enter hospice care each year. This means there is ample opportunity for many patients to talk with their doctors and family members about end-of-life care.

Before patients can explore and express their preferences about dying they first need to have a conversation like the one between Sinha and Mrs. Jones. In too many cases, no such conversation ever takes place. Patients often don’t know what to ask, or they may feel uncomfortable discussing the matter. And doctors may never broach the subject.

At one end of the spectrum, doctors can do everything possible to forestall death, including the use of chest compressions, breathing tubes, and electrical shocks to get the heart beating normally again. Of course, such actions can be traumatic for frail and dying patients. At the opposite end, doctors can focus on keeping the patient comfortable, while allowing death to proceed naturally.

And of course, end-of-life care can involve more than just making patients comfortable. Some patients lose the ability to eat and drink, raising the question of whether to use tubes to provide artificial hydration and feedings. Another issue is how aggressively to promote the patient’s comfort. For example, when patients are in pain or having trouble breathing, doctors can provide medications that ease the distress.

Another issue is ensuring that the patient’s wishes are followed. This does not always happen, as orders can be lost when patients are transferred between facilities such as hospitals and nursing homes.

Fortunately, most states across the country are beginning to make available a new tool that helps doctors and patients avoid such unfortunate outcomes. It is called POLST, for Physician Orders for Limiting Scope of Treatment. First envisioned in Oregon in the early 1990s, it grew out of a recognition that patient preferences for end-of-life care were too frequently not being honored. Typically, the doctor is the one to introduce POLST into the conversation, but there is no reason patients and family members cannot do so.

The cornerstone of the program is a one-page form known in Indiana as POST. It consists of six sections, including cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR); a range of other medical interventions, from admission to the intensive care unit to allowing natural death; antibiotics; artificial nutrition; documentation of the person with whom the doctor discussed the options; and the doctor’s signature.

The POST form helps to initiate and focus conversations between patients, families, and doctors around end-of-life care. It also fosters shared decision making, helping to ensure that all perspectives are taken into account, and ensuring that patient wishes are honored.

POST can be applied across all settings, from the hospital to the nursing home to the patient’s home. It can be scanned into the patient’s electronic medical record, ensuring that it is available to every health professional caring for the patient. And it does not require a notary or an attorney (or the associated fees), because it is a doctor’s order.

Of course, merely filling out the form is not enough. The patient’s wishes can be truly honored only if the patient and family understand the options, have the opportunity to pose questions, and trust that their wishes will be followed. In other words, POST achieves its purpose only if it is based on the kind of open and trusting relationship Dr. Sinha had developed with Mrs. Jones.

Providing such care isn’t easy. “Our health care system pays handsomely for curative care,” Sinha says, “but care at the end of life is probably the most poorly compensated kind that doctors provide. This can make it difficult to get hospitals and future doctors interested in it.” Thanks to initiatives such as POLST and doctors such as Sinha, however, such care is finally getting more of the attention it deserves.

Complete Article HERE!

Should diabetes treatment lessen for older adults approaching the end of life?

by American Geriatrics Society

One in four people aged 65 or older has diabetes. The disease is the seventh leading cause of death in the United States and a major contributor to heart disease. Experts have recommended that the best way to slow the progression of diabetes—and help prevent its many complications—is to maintain strict control of blood sugar levels. For healthy younger people, this means keeping the target blood sugar level (known as A1c or HbA1c) lower than 6.5 percent to 7.0 percent.

For older adults who have a limited life expectancy or who have advanced dementia, however, maintaining that target blood sugar level may cause more harm than good. For example, these older adults may not live long enough to experience potential benefits. What’s more, maintaining these strict blood sugar levels can raise the risk of potentially harmful events such as (also known as hypoglycemia). This can cause falls or loss of consciousness.

For these reasons, many guidelines now suggest targeting higher HbA1c targets—such as between 8.0 percent and 9.0 percent—for older adults who have multiple chronic conditions or limited life expectancy, or who live in nursing homes.

There is not much existing research to guide health care practitioners as to what the appropriate levels of diabetes medications are for this group of older adults. There is also little information about the effects for these individuals of taking fewer or lower dose of diabetes medications.

Experts suspect that lessening diabetes treatment in these older adults has the potential to prevent unnecessary hospitalizations due to lowering the risk for harmful drug events and increasing the patients’ comfort.

In order to investigate the issue, a team of researchers conducted a study—one of the first national studies to examine potential overtreatment and deintensification of diabetes management in nursing with limited life expectancy or dementia. The researchers chose nursing home residents to study because admission to a nursing home could give healthcare practitioners a chance to learn more about patient goals and preferences and to review and adjust medications accordingly. The researchers published their results in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

The researchers examined information from Veterans Affairs nursing homes from 2009 to 2015. Their goal was to learn more about older adults with diabetes, particularly those nearing the end of their life or who have dementia. The researchers investigated whether these older adults were overtreated for diabetes, whether they had their diabetes medication regimens lessened, and what effects might result from lowered doses, types and/or different kinds of medication.

The researchers wanted to learn specifically how often diabetes treatments were lessened. Among the nursing home residents identified as potentially overtreated, the researchers examined how much their diabetes treatment regimens were lessened during the 90 days of follow-up.

The researchers did not consider insulin dose changes, because insulin doses may be influenced by factors such as eating habits.

The researchers said they observed potential overtreatment of diabetes in almost 44 percent of nursing home admissions for veterans with diabetes and veterans who had limited life expectancy or dementia. Potentially overtreated residents were about 78 years old and were nearly all male and non-Hispanic white. Two-thirds of the residents had been admitted to nursing homes from hospitals. A total of 29 percent had advanced dementia, almost 14 percent were classified with end-of-life status, and 79 percent had a moderately high risk of dying within six months. Many were physically dependent and had and/or potential diabetes-related complications. In addition, about 9 percent of overtreated residents had a serious low blood sugar episode in the year prior, emphasizing the need for deintensification.

Nearly half of residents received two or more diabetes medications, and those with higher HbA1c values of between 6.5 percent to 7.5 percent received more diabetes medications than those with lower HbA1c.

The researchers concluded that many veteran nursing home residents with limited life expectancy or dementia may be overtreated for their diabetes at the time of admission. The researchers suggested that future studies examine the impact of deintensification on health outcomes and adverse events to better understand the risks and benefits of management strategies in this group of .