living your best to the end

modern medsModern Medicine can keep you alive

Machines, medications and man-made parts: modern medicine continues to find and develop life-saving and life-prolonging interventions.

Advancements in heart research include:

  • Bypass surgery
  • Man-made implantable cardiac devices like pacemakers

When organs fail, there’s dialysis for kidney failure, and transplants for kidney, lung, liver and heart. Cancer continues to be researched, and survival rates and life expectancy has greatly increased. For neurological (brain) illness and injury, medications and interventions are emerging, and rehab helps with increased function. Even infections – which were regularly the cause of death in past generations – are now treated with antibiotics.

However,  as the body winds down, so-called ‘Heroic Measures’ may do more harm than intended.  CPR (Cardio-Pulmonary Resuscitation) Breathing Machines (ventilators), Feeding tubes and specific medications can be considered  Heroic Measures or seem more like Futile Treatment. When making decisions about any of these, it can help to understand the longer-term results and possible complications.

A beautiful death

“My mother was ‘dying’ for about 10 years – with her sickness, she seemed often on the brink of death, and then she’d rally. We’d all said our goodbyes a number of times. But on the day she actually died, my father was in her bed, his arm around her, holding on to her. He’d been in this position for a long time when my former brother-in-law came to visit. “My mother and her former son-in-law had kept up a really special relationship even after my sister had divorced him. They were very close and spent a fair bit of time together. My father would call him ‘her spiritual companion’. When he came into my mother’s room, she was looking grey and frail. My father’s arm was falling asleep holding her. ‘Can you take over here?’ he asked when former brother-in-law appeared. Take over he did, cradling my mother against him. My mother looked at him and her face lit up. Her cheeks became rosy and her eyes twinkled. She looked like a teenager again. She smiled, and took her last breath. It was a beautiful death. I was glad to have been there. Interestingly, when I was about 5 years old, I had a dream that my mother died in the arms of a younger man. It was the only such dream I’d ever had.”  ...

Extreme Measures: Dr Jessica Zitter on a Palliative mission

“I’m going to call 911: a doctor is torturing a patient.” So said Nurse Pat Murphy to Dr Jessica Zitter  – just as Zitter was about to plunge a syringe into the neck of a patient with a host of health issues. Tho the 911 call wasn’t made, it was a turning point for Zitter – who trained as a critical care doctor, and for whom going gently into that good night felt like she was abandoning a patient, a failure. That encounter with Nurse Murphy led her to completely change her own medical ‘mandate’ – becoming a Palliative doctor – the specialty that embodies the philosophy of ‘patient-centered’ medicine. I first ‘met’ Dr Zitter in a New York Times essay in which she admits on her first night on call as a Palliative doctor she hadn’t yet completely relinquished her ‘critical care save the life at all costs’ ‘tude. A healthcare team in conflict The patient ­– a Holocaust survivor ­– was sleeping peacefully. She’d been admitted with pneumonia, but it hadn’t responded to treatment. As she got sicker and her breathing harder, she was made comfortable. The doctor attending the patient told the team gathered that she had clearly said she didn’t want a breathing tube, but the respiratory therapist wasn’t comfortable not intubating: “I’m not really sure she ‘got it’ she was pretty out of it.” Zitter was also unsure. The compromise was to strap on an oxygen mask overnight and re-assess in the morning. The morning found the patient ‘delirious and terrified, her mask off center and totally ineffective.” Confirmation of commitment to Palliative Care...

I want to die in my sleep like my grandfather… not screaming and yelling like the passengers in his car.

Will Shriner

Comedian

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