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The Fight of His Life

During the early months of the COVID pandemic, the Utah medical school where I teach asked me to facilitate a small group of first-year students in Layers of Medicine—a course that covers what you might call the “messy” side of medicine, including end-of-life discussions.

Just after the course started, my dad was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. All at once, I felt my personal and professional responsibilities intersect, unexpectedly and powerfully.

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Watching Cricket With My Dad

“Nothing in life is certain except death and taxes!” my dad often crows.

This phrase takes me back to my boyhood, watching the Cricket World Cup matches with him. Time and again, I would pray fervently for an Indian win, but watch in increasing desperation as India threw away an insurmountable lead and snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.

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Decision

B546 wants to die
eight years after they saved her.
Cervical-cord injuries are cruel.
For Maria it was a gunshot,
but it could have been a car wreck, a fall,
or a drunken misstep off a roof.
The reasons seemed to matter; now they don’t.
Thirty-two, alone, paralyzed, on a vent,
she mouths “no” to the antibiotics, the heart meds.
“I want to die,” she shouts

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Deadlock

Zachary Reese ~

“Does a rock float on water?” I asked the haggard woman lying in the ICU bed.

I was an intern, in the first rotation of my medical residency, and Mrs. Jones had been my ICU team’s patient for the past week. Over that time, she’d looked more and more uncomfortable, constantly gesturing for her breathing tube to be removed.

Mrs. Jones tried to form words in response to

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Comfort Care

 
When a year ago he arrived at the clinic, he was a hard-working man with neck pain, there with his expectant wife and their adoring toddler. No one had anticipated a tumor.
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Family Summons

Amy Cowan

Startled out of sleep, I reflexively reach for my beeping pager. For a split second, I lie poised between wakefulness and terror in the pitch-dark resident call room, not sure where I am or what happened. I resolve to sleep with the lights on from now on.

I dial the call-back number.

“Pod A,” a caffeinated voice chirps. It’s Candice, one of the nurses.

“Hi. Amy here, returning a

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Knowing When to Let Go

 
I will never forget being told that my mother’s treatment options were pretty much over. A COPD/atrial fibrillation sufferer, she had been intubated and spent time in the ICU, then rehab and then home for a few days. She was very vehement about not wanting to spend life on a ventilator. And she documented this in a living will.
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At Day’s End

Marc Tumerman

This is a story of two deaths. That these patients’ stories intersected on the same morning, in the same building, in two adjacent rooms, has left me thinking about them now that the day is almost done.

I was surprised to see Mrs. Stevens’ name on my schedule today. She came to the office last week, and I felt sure that she’d be too weak for another visit. But I was glad

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Race in the Advance Directives Conversation

 
Much of my work as a Palliative Care physician involves conversations with patients and their families for whom the medical outlook is bleak: to help them receive the treatment they want, not more and not less. Such discussions are best held in tandem with the primary medical team and with the nurse. Many times, both attending doctors and housestaff have said, “But it’s so much harder to get a DNR (Do Not Resuscitate Order)

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Last Stand

E. Wesley Ely

The first time I saw Jessa, she lay crumpled in the ICU bed, paralyzed, expressionless and unable to speak. A military veteran, she had fought in Desert Storm, but she now was facing a deadlier and more inexorable foe: amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), aka Lou Gehrig’s disease.

This disease causes progressive loss of muscle control, and Jessa was unable to speak, eat or breathe on her own. Her only means

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Surprise Ending

Ellen Kolton

“He’s just expired,” said the nurse as I approached Ray’s room in the large inner-city hospital where I work as a patient advocate. “And his wife has just arrived. Why don’t you go in?”

I found Natalie bent over Ray’s body. His hollow cheek was drenched with her tears.

“I’m so sor–“

“I told him yesterday to talk to Jesus,” Natalie interrupted, speaking quickly. “I told him if the

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Casting Out Demons

Jef Gamblee

As I stand beside the bed in Mr. Jerome’s living room, his pit bull puppy sniffs the body bag lying on a stretcher nearby. His cat curls up on the bedside shelf.

“That dog gonna be a problem?” asks Jude, one of the crematory guys.

“She might get underfoot,” says the neighbor, whose name I can’t remember. “But she’s a lover, not a fighter.”

Jude and Chuck are here to

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