Thursday, July 28, 2005

Facing my Mortality - Part 2 - an update

I recently found something in my body that I was worried about.

Now cancer doesn't grow that fast, so I was sure that my recent radiation exposure was just making me paranoid.

But I decided to go to the doctor this past Tuesday, just to alleviate my fears. Have it checked out.

Well, unfortunately, my doctor didn't just alleviate my fears.

I have an appointment this coming Wednesday with a specialist and may need a biopsy.

Instead of allowing myself to find escapes from the inevitable anxiety this has been causing, I'm trying to focus on enjoying the warmth of the sun against my skin and singing my heart out to my favorite songs on my new i-Pod.

Worrying accomplishes nothing.

We only get one life. I want to make the most of it.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Facing my Mortality in a Safe

Upon my request, Jim was showing me how the radiation meter works to detect radiation.

"Come with me." Jim led me outside and into a locked shed. I hesitantly followed him through the padlocked door.

Jim approached a heavy metal safe sitting on the dark, damp industrial cement floor and held the meter up to it.

I was impressed as I heard the meter's tick-tick-tick alerting us to the radiation emitting from the safe. I have always liked to live dangerously, but I stepped back in fear.

"Oh, that's nothing," he explained, having noted my unease. "See the numbers on the gauge? They're only reading at about 100. Watch this."

My shoulders tensed as I watched him unlock the safe.

He lifted a small round box from inside the safe. The box was slightly larger than a 35mm film canister. He opened the lid and set the meter on top. The ticks were almost indistinguishable from one another as I watched the needle rise to the top of the scale on the meter.


At that level of radiation, the meter sounded like the crackle of an AM radio.

"Yikes," my fear escaped my mouth. I was sure that I was getting cancer just standing next to that little film canister. I wanted to run from the safe, screaming, but my feet were glued in place. Much like a nightmare, only this was real life.

Although at times, I may come off as fascinated with death, I still have quite a bit of unease with the idea of my own mortality.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Your Truth: I'm Dying

If you've been reading this blog, you'll be familiar with this format. I'm going to present a scenario and I want you to tell me how you would act, what you would say if in this situation. And at the end, I will state what I have done in a similar circumstance.

Ms. Kelly is 41 years old and was diagnosed two days ago with highly metastasized lung cancer, which has gone to her brain, liver and bone. She is a nurse, so she is aware of her poor prognosis. She has two small children. She has agreed to try some curative treatments with the hopes of extending her life as long as possible.

When you first met her, Ms. Kelly told you, "I know that I'm dying." You listenned attentively as she told you about all the things she wants to do before she dies.

The next time you see Ms. Kelly, she is using her energy full-swing to fight her disease. When you approach her, she refuses to make eye contact with you.

What do you think is happening and how do you respond?

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Unusual Funerals

I recently came across this link in a blog post poking fun at the viewing after the death of a zealous Pittsburgh Steelers fan.

"The Samuel E. Coston Funeral Home erected a small stage in a viewing room, and arranged furniture on it much as it was in Smith's home on game day Sundays.

"Smith's body was on the recliner, his feet crossed and a remote in his hand. He wore black and gold silk pajamas, slippers and a robe. A pack of cigarettes and a beer were at his side, while a high-definition TV played a continuous loop of Steelers highlights."

What a unique way to celebrate someone's life and to remember them at their death. Personally, I like this idea much better than having my loved ones' body in a foreign box. Of course, I'm not sure it would be apppropriate for very many of my loved ones to be viewed sitting in a recliner, watching football. But the equivalent could be much more meaningful than the traditional wake.

What do you think? Is this type of unique viewing disrespectful or loving?

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Your Truth: Cost of Dying Conversation

There are a multitude of interactions I have with patients about their mortality. Some interactions are more stricken with ethical dilemmas. Some are more challenging emotionally. I am using the following scenario to discuss communication techniques as opposed to the ethical dilemmas presented in most of the prior scenarios in this series.

As with all of the other scenarios, please ponder over this one and share your thoughts on how you might handle it. Once I hear from you, I will post my response in a similar circumstance.

Ms. Lam was diagnosed with a particularly aggressive type of lung cancer and was told that she has only a few months to live. During your visit with her, somewhat out of the blue, she says, "Do you know how much it costs to buy a plot to be buried in?"

Do you (pick as many as you want):

a) Say, "No. I don't know. How much?"
b) Offer alternatives to burial, such as cremation, that may save her money.
c) Ask her leading questions, seeing this comment as an opening for her to discuss her feelings about the fact that she's dying.
d) Sit down and listen to see where she takes the conversation.
e) Other