Healthcare journalist Peggy Girshman writes her own eulogy

I’ve been a fan of Peggy Girshman’s science and healthcare writing for a long time, so it was with great sadness that I read about her death in March at the young age of 61.

But in tribute to her award-winning journalism career, which included long stints at both NPR and Kaiser Health News, she actually wrote her own eulogy!

She wanted to share a few simple lessons she had learned from her years on the job of reporting healthcare-related stories. Because they resonate with my own view that we need more health and less medicine, I wanted … Continue reading

The high cost of dying with dignity

I just read about another case where a pharmaceutical company bought the rights to an old, been-around-forever drug and then drastically increased the price. Argh.

A few months ago I posted about the drug Daraprim, which was bought by Turing Pharmaceuticals. Its CEO, the now infamous Martin Shkreli, raised the price from $13 a pill to over $700.

Last February, Valeant Pharmaceuticals bought the rights to Seconal (secobarbital), an 80-year-old sleeping pill. Ten years ago 90 Seconal tablets cost about 30 dollars. Now it’s closer to $3,000.

It’s believed Valeant did this in response to California’s new End Continue reading

What is a death doula?

I subscribe to the belief that no one should die alone or afraid, and death is a natural part of the life cycle that can be—should be—a sacred, deeply meaningful experience.

Sadly, too often that’s not the case. Our current health care system doesn’t do death well at all. Unless they qualify for hospice, patients and their families are left feeling helpless, confused and afraid. Sometimes angry.

No one expects us to be experts at childbirth if we’ve never had a baby. Why should we be experts at death if we or a loved one has never died before?

I … Continue reading

A physician’s own end-of-life story

I’ve always believed that if I were diagnosed with a terminal illness and had a choice between a few months of quality living and a few extra months filled with doctors’ visits, surgeries, lab tests and drug treatments, I would choose quality of life.

Many friends, some of them doctors, have told me, “Oh, you think that now, but when the times comes the will to live is just too strong. You’ll do anything for that extra time.”

Would I? I guess I won’t know for sure until my time comes.

That’s exactly what a hospice physician thought—Will I Continue reading

Hospice and Palliative Care Month

November is National Hospice and Palliative Care Month!

I am a huge supporter of hospice and palliative care, but I think it’s underutilized in our health care system.

So to help inform and increase awareness, here are some of my favorite books and DVDs on the topic.

The high cost of dementia

November is Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month.

It’s hard to find anyone who isn’t aware of—and scared of—dementia**. Or who hasn’t had a family member or friend stricken by it.

Alzheimer’s is a horrible disease that damages not only the individual, but family and friends, as well, especially the primary care giver—most often the spouse.

Adding insult to injury is the incredible cost of getting help. A recent study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine confirms what many already know—Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia cost families way more than almost any other disease.

Why? Cancer is one of Continue reading

End of life forms – Living Wills, DNR and POLST

Apparently even health care providers don’t understand all the different end-of-life forms that might accompany a patient into the hospital.

I watched a parody video (to Green Day’s “Good Riddance”) on YouTube that seeks to educate and eliminate the misunderstandings.

These end-of-life forms, also known as advance directives or health care directives, are similar but differ slightly in scope and usage.

Certainly physicians and nurses should know the difference (and in my experience, most of them do), but it’s equally helpful for patients and family members to understand them so “medical mistakes” can be avoided.… Continue reading

Oliver Sacks reflects on dying

I just read that the brilliant physician-writer Oliver Sacks died yesterday from a rare form of eye cancer. Although he had been diagnosed with the disease several years ago, he learned earlier this year that the cancer, a form of melanoma, had spread aggressively into his liver.

At that time, he wrote a moving Op-Ed for the New York Times, and I bookmarked it because his words reflecting on his terminal diagnosis really resonated with me.

It is up to me now to choose how to live out the months that remain to me. I have to live in

Continue reading

A different kind of hospice caregiver

File this video under “Adorable.”

I’ve posted a lot about end-of-life issues and hospice in the last few months because my father recently passed away after a short stint on hospice.

So I couldn’t resist passing along this viral video of JJ the Hospice Therapy Dog doing his thing—being a warm, soothing and unconditionally-caring presence.

JJ has his own Facebook page, so you can go there if you want to watch other videos and read some of “his” stories (his owner is a hospice nurse).

You can also find links to learn more about … Continue reading

ZDoggMD raps on end of life

I love ZDoggMD’s musical video parodies on health-related topics (by the way, he really is an MD, although how he finds time to make these videos, I don’t know).

His latest offering takes on the huge subject of end of life choices—or non choices, as is sadly often the case.

“Ain’t the Way to Die”


I like the line “Critical care is just hypocritical when it’s so insane.”

At the end of the video, ZDoggMD invites viewers to share their experiences with dying in the comments.

And he promises his next video will be … Continue reading

Goodbye, Dad

My father passed away on the Fourth of July. He was 93 years old.

It sounds a cliché to say he was “surrounded by his family,” but he was, and it was an experience none of us in that room will ever forget.

My mother, brother, husband, sister-in-law and four nieces (along with one fiancé and one boyfriend) were all crowded into Dad’s little room at his memory care home.

His condition had deteriorated the previous night, and we knew this day could be his last. He was not conscious and his breathing was labored.

As we talked, cried and … Continue reading

Palliative care and hospice

hospice and palliative careFor the last few months, my family has been dealing with the reality that my 93-year-old father’s health is failing. Following a health crisis that resulted in his being hospitalized and no longer able to make decisions himself, my mother and siblings all agreed that he would not want any heroic, life-extending treatments.

He survived that hospitalization, however, and is now living in a memory care home. He is receiving excellent (and very expensive) around-the-clock care.

When he was discharged from the hospital, I made it known to everyone involved—his primary care doctor, the visiting home health nurse, and his … Continue reading

End of life – “The Conversation”

end of life the converstation angelo volandesI’ve been AWOL on the blog for a couple of weeks because my 93-year-old father has been hospitalized with multiple health issues. Each day brings us a mixed bag of improvement and decline.

As a family, we are in agreement that we don’t want Dad to suffer. We don’t want him to linger with a low quality of life. Although he is confused and unable to communicate with us, we know he doesn’t want that for himself, either.

With good communication and constant re-assessing of Dad’s condition and options, we will make it through this period in our lives. I … Continue reading

“Being Mortal”

being mortalHere’s a link to the PBS Frontline special Being Mortal, based on the book of the same name by the brilliant surgeon/author Atul Gawande.

The hour-long report shows Dr. Gawande talking with patients and colleagues about difficult end-of-life issues. Both doctors and patients have trouble managing their expectations about death and the process of dying. After all, doctors want to fix things and patients believe there is always “something more” that can be done.

But as Dr. Gawande says, “The two big unfixables are aging and dying. You can’t fix them.”

Overall, Being Mortal asks, “What matters to you Continue reading

Death with Dignity – “How to Die in Oregon”

death with dignity Facing end-of-life choices

There have been a lot of news stories in recent weeks about a young woman, Brittany Maynard, and her choice to end her life with support from Oregon’s Death with Dignity law.

Diagnosed with advanced brain cancer, Ms. Maynard actually moved with her husband to Oregon so she could establish residency and take advantage of the law.

She originally planned her death for last Saturday, November 1. Last I heard she was thinking of rescheduling, because she was still finding joy in living. I don’t know if she ended her life or not on Saturday, but when … Continue reading