WBEZ | dying http://www.wbez.org/tags/dying Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en A nurse reflects on the privilege of caring for dying patients http://www.wbez.org/news/nurse-reflects-privilege-caring-dying-patients-113099 <p><p>Palliative care nurse Theresa Brown is healthy, and so are her loved ones, and yet, she feels keenly connected to death. &quot;I have a deep awareness after working in oncology that fortunes can change on a dime,&quot; she tellsFresh Air&#39;s&nbsp;Terry Gross. &quot;Enjoy the good when you have it, because that really is a blessing.&quot;</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/TheShiftCover.jpg" style="margin-left: 10px; margin-right: 10px; height: 446px; width: 295px; float: left;" title="The Shift One Nurse, Twelve Hours, Four Patients' Lives by Theresa Brown (Workman Publishing Co.)" />Brown is the author of&nbsp;The Shift,&nbsp;which follows four patients during the course of a 12-hour shift in a hospital cancer ward. A former oncology nurse, Brown now provides patients with in-home, end-of-life care.</p><p>Talking &mdash; and listening &mdash; are both important parts of her job as a palliative care nurse. This is especially true on the night shift. &quot;Night and waking up in the night can bring a clarity,&quot; she says. &quot;It can be a clarity of being able to face your fears, it can be a clarity of being overwhelmed by your fears, and either way, I feel like it&#39;s really a privilege to be there for people.&quot;</p><p>Sometimes Brown finds herself bridging the gap between patients who know they are dying and family members who are still expecting a cure. &quot;There can be a lot of secrets kept and silences. ... One thing that palliative care can be really good at is trying to sit with families and have those conversations,&quot; she says.</p><p>While some might see her job as depressing, Brown says that being with people who are dying is a profound experience. &quot;When you&#39;re with people who die ... and being in their homes and seeing their families, it&#39;s incredible the love that people evoke. And it makes me realize this is why we&#39;re here; this is what we do; this is what we give to each other.&quot;</p><hr /><h3><strong>Interview Highlights</strong></h3><p><strong>On cutting costs and stretching nurses too thin</strong></p><p>There&#39;s a sense that you can stretch a nurse just like an elastic band and sort of, &quot;Well, someone called off today.&quot; That means a nurse calls in and says that she&#39;s sick or her car broke down or he won&#39;t be there, and sometimes we&#39;re able to get someone onto the floor to take that person&#39;s place, but often we&#39;re not. Or an aide might not be able to show up for whatever reason, and then the assumption is just, &quot;Well, the nurses will just do all the work that the aide would&#39;ve done,&quot; and the problem is that people do not stretch like rubber bands, and even rubber bands will break if you stretch them too far.</p><p><strong>On loved ones wanting to feed their dying family members</strong></p><div id="res443473247" previewtitle="Theresa Brown is a critical care nurse in Pittsburgh. Her previous book is Critical Care: A New Nurse Faces Death, Life, and Everything in Between."><div><p>Food is so fundamental, and their feeling is &quot;I&#39;m letting my husband starve to death and that&#39;s wrong.&quot; So I have to talk them through the process of the body slowly going in reverse. All the processes we think of as normal and that are integral to life, they&#39;re all slowing down. And so the body just doesn&#39;t need food when someone gets very close to the end of their life and, in fact, they found that forcing someone to eat can mean that they just have this food sitting in their stomach, they&#39;re not able to digest it, can actually make them more uncomfortable. So I talked to [one family member] about that, but tried to do it as gently as possible, while also acknowledging the incredible love that was motivating her and trying to honor that, but make it clear that she needed to show her love by being close with her husband, by holding his hand, by talking to him, but not by feeding him.</p></div></div><p><strong>On whether patients ask if they&#39;re dying</strong></p><p>No, they don&#39;t. ... I think it&#39;s because they&#39;re afraid. They want to just take things day by day. I did have a wife once ask me. She said, &quot;You know, I&#39;m not new to this, and I want you to just tell me. Is he dying?&quot; And at that point I was a pretty new nurse and I didn&#39;t have the experience to know to say, &quot;Yes.&quot; Now I would know to say that. ... I got a sense that she really wanted to know and no one else was telling her. ...</p><p>Physicians can have a mindset of &quot;we&#39;re thinking positively, we&#39;re focusing on the good that can come, and we&#39;re not going to talk about &#39;what if it doesn&#39;t work out.&#39; &quot; And they will sometimes pull the nurse aside and say, &quot;What&#39;s going on?&quot;</p><p><img alt="Theresa Brown is a critical care nurse in Pittsburgh. Her previous book is Critical Care: A New Nurse Faces Death, Life, and Everything in Between." src="http://media.npr.org/assets/img/2015/09/25/theresa-brown-c-ken-weingart-photography-784876b10e1c38ad59e08fb8c6af4485fc54760c-s300-c85.jpg" style="height: 224px; width: 300px; float: right; margin-left: 10px; margin-right: 10px;" title="Theresa Brown is a critical care nurse in Pittsburgh. Her previous book is Critical Care: A New Nurse Faces Death, Life, and Everything in Between. (C. Ken Weingart/Algonquin Books)" /></p><p><strong>On leaving the hospital setting for palliative care</strong></p><p>I love the hospital. I never thought I would leave the hospital, but I left to see patients outside the hospital because in the hospital I feel like we never see people at their best. They feel lousy. We wake them up at night. We give them no privacy. We give them, really, almost no dignity. We tell them what they&#39;re going to do when, what they&#39;re going to eat when, what pill they&#39;re going to take when and no one likes living like that. ... So I wanted to see people in their homes because I thought there&#39;s got to be a way we could make the hospital better. Seeing what it&#39;s like for patients in their homes I thought would show me that. And I would say overwhelmingly what I&#39;ve seen is control: People have so much more control when they&#39;re in their homes and it should not be that hard to give them back a little bit more control in the hospital.</p><p><strong>On traveling to a patient&#39;s home</strong></p><p>When I started, I thought, &quot;I can&#39;t believe I&#39;m doing this. I can&#39;t believe I just drive up to these houses and go inside them.&quot; I live in Pittsburgh, but it can get very rural feeling actually pretty quickly, and I remember ... going to [a house] that was already through back-country roads and then down a gravel driveway, and I thought: &quot;What am I doing? Am I insane?&quot; And then I went into this house, and this family was so loving and amazing and wonderful, so it was a great education for me not to judge. And I know that my workplace checks out and makes sure that the places we&#39;re going are real, so that&#39;s comforting, but it&#39;s definitely a giant leap of faith, and you just have to make that leap.</p><p><strong>On home care versus hospital care</strong></p><p>Often in the hospital they can be more comfortable in terms of we&#39;re relieving their pain, we&#39;re getting them anti-nausea medications very quickly, but ... they&#39;re not as comfortable with themselves, and in their homes they seem much more comfortable with themselves and with the people around them, and I had never thought about those two things as being so distinct, but they are. So the question then is how do we give people care that marries those two things, because they&#39;re both so important.</p><p><strong>On how patients express appreciation to nurses</strong></p><p>A very popular gift in my hospital was Starbucks [gift] cards. ... Often people bring in cookies and chocolate and that&#39;s wonderful, but I remember one nurse saying, &quot;You know, I wish someone would just bring in a lasagna.&quot; ... Because we never have time to eat and then you go into the break room and you&#39;re hypoglycemic and you see all this chocolate, and so you eat all this chocolate, which doesn&#39;t really help you feel that much better in the long run. So to actually drop off a meal is wonderful.</p></p> Tue, 29 Sep 2015 11:35:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/nurse-reflects-privilege-caring-dying-patients-113099 DePaul museum show 'Rooted in Soil' looks at role earth plays in life, death http://www.wbez.org/programs/morning-shift/2015-01-29/depaul-museum-show-rooted-soil-looks-role-earth-plays-life-death <p><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Bell_.jpg" style="height: 400px; width: 600px;" title="Metropolis 2012 by Vaughn Bell. Acrylic, aluminum, rigging cables, hardware, soil, native plants. (Photo by Spike Mafford)" /></div></div><p>A new exhibition opening Thursday at the DePaul Art Museum takes a unique look at something we take for granted.</p><p>&ldquo;Rooted in Soil&rdquo; examines earth from multiple viewpoints, from the role that intensive agriculture and deforestation play in removing topsoil, to the decaying flowers, trees and even human bodies that all eventually return to the soil.</p><p>&ldquo;The idea came out of a very tumultuous period in my life, where I was having an existential crisis, if you will, and exploring many of these questions about the meaning of life,&rdquo; said Farrah Fatemi, an assistant environmental studies professor at St. Michael&rsquo;s College in Vermont. She curated the show with her mother, Laura Fatemi, who&rsquo;s the museum&rsquo;s interim director.</p><p>Farrah Fatemi said she started meditating and reading a lot about Buddhism.</p><p>&ldquo;One of the things that really resonated with me is this concept of a very fundamental interconnectedness that all beings have to one another and to their environment,&rdquo; she said, adding she and her mother wanted to bring this interconnectedness to the public through art.</p><p>That connection is evident as soon as you walk into the DePaul Art Museum.</p><p>The smell of fresh soil hangs in the air. The first thing you see is a large angular terrarium hanging suspended from the ceiling. If you&rsquo;ve admired terrariums and imagined living in a tiny world of plants under glass, &ldquo;Metropolis&rdquo; by Seattle artist Vaughn Bell gives you a taste of what that would be like. Visitors can stand underneath it, poke their heads through holes cut in the bottom and be surrounded by green plants and the rich smell of soil in the spring, despite the cold weather outside.</p><p>An installation by Chicago artist Claire Pentecost lets visitors step into a room that looks like an old apothecary, but the vials and cylinders are full of dirt. People can lift glass domes containing soil samples and take a whiff.</p><p>&ldquo;I think one of the neat things about this exhibit is that it confronts people in the city who are surrounded by this paved landscape with soil,&rdquo; Farrah Fatemi said. The idea is to connect urban spaces and urban dwellers back to nature.</p><p>Upstairs, the focus turns to the cycle of life, featuring powerful images that are beautiful and uncomfortable.</p><p>A 17th-century &ldquo;vanitas,&rdquo; a form of still life that focuses on death-related themes, by Flemish painter Adriaen van Utrecht shows a skull and a glorious bouquet just past full flower that&rsquo;s starting to rot. Coins and jewelry are scattered nearby, symbolizing, as Laura Fatemi said, &ldquo;You can&rsquo;t take it with you.&rdquo;</p><p>&ldquo;In a way, these were religious paintings,&rdquo; Laura Fatemi said, adding that they made reference to concepts like mortality and repentance.</p><p>Next to the painting, Sam Taylor-Johnson explores a similar theme in still life -- but in video form -- showing a luscious bowl of fruit quickly moving through the stages of decay from ripeness to mold to bugs.</p><p>The photographs of Sally Mann, who documents corpses in various stages of decomposition at the Body Farm at the University of Tennessee, are grotesque and strangely beautiful. Justin Rang explores similar themes in his film &ldquo;Light/Dark Worms.&rdquo; It takes up an entire wall and shows worms writhing around a human hand in the dirt, inviting us to reflect on our own impermanence.</p><p>&ldquo;We depend on this nutrient cycle, and we&rsquo;re part of it,&rdquo; Laura Fatemi said. Much of the work plays with our anxiety over dying and our fear of the unknown. &ldquo;The reality is the earth will take us back.&rdquo;</p><p>For many of us, that&rsquo;s never an easy concept to grasp or even to consider. But perhaps seeing it explored in art will make it a bit less scary.<br />&ldquo;Rooted in Soil&rdquo; runs through April 26 at the DePaul Art Museum.</p><p><em>Lynette Kalsnes covers religion, arts and culture for WBEZ. Follow her <a href="http://twitter.com/LynetteKalsnes" target="_blank">@LynetteKalsnes</a>.</em></p></p> Thu, 29 Jan 2015 16:03:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/programs/morning-shift/2015-01-29/depaul-museum-show-rooted-soil-looks-role-earth-plays-life-death Journalist and doctor encourage honest conversations about death http://www.wbez.org/series/storycorps/journalist-and-doctor-encourage-honest-conversations-about-death-110729 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/StoryCorps 140829 Mary Randi bh.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Chicago journalist<a href="http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2010-01-18/news/1001170139_1_chicago-reporter-cltv-chicago-mayor-richard-daley"> Carlos Hernandez Gomez</a>, a former WBEZ staffer died from colon cancer in 2010. His wife, WGN Reporter Randi Belisomo, says she was caught off guard by the death, even though he had been fighting illness for some time. Afterwards, Belisomo<a href="http://chicagotonight.wttw.com/2013/08/13/learning-talk-about-death"> teamed up with one of his doctors, Mary Mulcahy</a>, to get people talking about end-of-life issues. Together, they created an organization called<a href="http://www.lifemattersmedia.org"> Life Matters Media</a>.</p><p>In this week&rsquo;s StoryCorps, Belisomo tells Dr. Mulcahy, &ldquo;You, being his doctor, you would always say, &lsquo;We can treat you Carlos, but we can&rsquo;t cure you.&rsquo; And so we treated and we treated and we treated, but nobody ever said, &lsquo;You&rsquo;re dying.&rsquo; And one day I lost him, suddenly. It shouldn&rsquo;t have come as a surprise but it did. And so months down the road, I asked you that question: &lsquo;Why didn&rsquo;t you ever tell me that Carlos was dying?&rsquo;&rdquo;</p><p>&ldquo;My original answer was: &lsquo;I did,&rsquo;&rdquo; Dr. Mulcahy tells Belisomo. &ldquo;But, in thinking about it, I realized that I probably never used those words.&rdquo;</p><p>&ldquo;Why not?&rdquo; Belisomo asks.</p><p>&ldquo;Well, it&rsquo;s hard to know when someone is dying,&rdquo; Mulcahy says. &ldquo;It was true that he was going to die&hellip;but he wasn&rsquo;t dying at the time. When somebody is still treating their disease, it&rsquo;s hard to have both of those things in parallel: You&rsquo;re treating their disease, but they&rsquo;re dying. Something&rsquo;s gotta give. And I think, at the time, the mode was to treat the disease. And we could talk about him dying when we didn&rsquo;t have treatment.&rdquo;</p><p>Since co-founding Life Matters Media, Dr. Mulcahy says she&rsquo;s more direct with patients and their families when death is near. She sees her role differently too. She wants to help people get as much out of life as they can, and to use what time they have left wisely. &ldquo;I&rsquo;ve learned that the more you do talk about end of life and planning for end of life, it isn&rsquo;t as scary,&rdquo; Mulcahy says. &ldquo;It isn&rsquo;t something to be avoided&hellip;Whether you use the words dying or not, even if somebody is going to die, it&rsquo;s reasonable to have these conversations.&rdquo;</p><p>&ldquo;What would a good end of life experience be?&rdquo; Belisomo asks.</p><p>&ldquo;Somebody who is at peace with the fact that their life is ending,&rdquo; Mulcahy says. &ldquo;They have come to terms with it to the best that they can. They have said the things that are important to their loved ones. Their loved ones have had the opportunity to tell them how important they were to their life.&rdquo;</p><p>When someone is preparing to die, &ldquo;Everything should be in order,&rdquo; Belisomo says. &ldquo;Saying what you want to say, knowing that the people you love are taken care of, doing all that you can. People think they&rsquo;re being strong by saying I&rsquo;m gonna fight, fight, fight, and I&rsquo;m gonna beat whatever disease with which I&rsquo;m afflicted, but I think the truly strong person can look at the whole scope of the situation and take care of their relationships and their unfinished business.&rdquo;</p><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="450" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/playlists/6250422&amp;color=ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_artwork=true&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false" width="888px"></iframe></p></p> Fri, 29 Aug 2014 13:45:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/storycorps/journalist-and-doctor-encourage-honest-conversations-about-death-110729 Christopher Hitchens' guide to dying http://www.wbez.org/blogs/bez/2012-09/christopher-hitchens-guide-dying-102584 <p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Christopher%20Hitchens.jpg" style="height: 524px; width: 400px; float: left; " title="The late essayist Christopher Hitchens (AP Photo/Chad Rachman, File)" /></div><p>As an essayist and columnist Christopher Hitchens was omnivorous. He wrote on anything and everything that piqued his curiosity. He commented, critiqued and satirized poetry, politics, politicians, popular culture, media personalities and religion. Nothing was safe from his scrutiny.</p><p>And so, of course, when he was suddenly faced with the great &ldquo;mystery of mysteries,&rdquo; his own pending death from esophageal cancer, he dealt with is the way he dealt with all of life &mdash; he wrote about it. The result of his efforts is recently-released&nbsp;<em>Mortality</em>, a slim volume of seven essays that chronicle his 18-month end-of-life journey through &ldquo;Tumorville.&rdquo; (There is an eighth chapter, but it is made up of fragments and notes that he jotted down in his last days.)</p><p>There&rsquo;s an old military saying: &ldquo;There are no atheists in foxholes.&rdquo; That&#39;s when the bullets and bombs start to fly, and saying goes, and everybody believes in God. But Hitchens wrote a best-selling book denying the existence of God (<em>God is Not Good</em>) and didn&rsquo;t change his tune as his &ldquo;vulgar little tumor&rdquo; took his life. Was he sad about dying? Of course. Did he &ldquo;desperately&rdquo; want to live? Doesn&rsquo;t everyone? Was he angry about facing the end? Absolutely. But did he take it personally? Did he wonder &ldquo;why me?&rdquo; No, never. In his &ldquo;year of living dyingly,&rdquo; he understood and accepted that the &ldquo;alien tumor that was burrowing into me&rdquo; was not a personal affront, but just a fact of life. It was malignant tumor. It was &ldquo;single-mindedly&rdquo; doing what it was supposed to do to him. It was spreading though his body and killing him.</p><p>Although he didn&rsquo;t want to die and although he sought out the best medical help possible Hitchens&rsquo; prose clearly conveys his conviction that his death was neither tragic or unique. Bad things happen in life and it was happening to him. He did not want it. He did not like it. But he refused to wallow in self-pity and lament the ultimate absurdity of exsistence. Rather at the end he took time to remember the importance of love, the importance of relationships; and the joys of the mind.</p><p>I have been an admirer of Hitchens, but never a major fan. I thought some of his arguments and writings too slick, too polished, too cleaver. But after reading <em>Mortality</em>, my admiration for him has grown. He faced death with dignity and grace. And whether or not you believe in God and an after-life, his was a &ldquo;good death&rdquo; &mdash; one worthy of emulating.&nbsp;</p><p><em>Al Gini is a Professor of Business Ethics and Chairman of the Management Department in the Quinlan School of Business at Loyola University Chicago.</em></p></p> Tue, 25 Sep 2012 05:00:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/bez/2012-09/christopher-hitchens-guide-dying-102584