The Room I Die In
Wed, 5/26/2010 4:55 PM
Many of you know that as the medical director of Methodist Hospice and Palliative Services, I help to supervise the care of over three thousand patients a year, most of whom die. Out of that experience, I’ve had a good bit of time and context in which to reflect on my own death, and how I’d like for it to be. Choosing the time and place of death is beyond our normal human capacity, but if I had my wishes, here are some thoughts about place.
I want a fairly open room, with a line of sight to a clear window, with the blinds drawn. I’d prefer the window be at home, but a hospice residence would do. What would most definitely not do would to be in a hospital room, with flourescent lights, lots of tubes, and someone I don’t know awakening me every four hours to take my blood pressure, then tell me to get some rest (well, I was before you came in).
I’d like a few books, and some friends and family. They can come and go as they please, as long as they laugh twice as much as they cry. I’d like big, blown-up pictures on the wall of my family (so I could still see them, as long as possible). I’m okay with having a television, but I wouldn’t want it on 24/7. I refuse to have my solemn moments polluted with the babblings of a talk-show guest, or a commercial to cut my credit card payments. And leave the dog outside, unless he’s quite old (too old to jump on the bed and hurt me).
I don’t want a ventilator. I don’t want a nasogastric or gastrostomy tube, unless I’m throwing up regularly, and it can’t be controlled with medicines. I don’t want a Foley catheter, as long as I can urinate on my own (better the indignity of diapers than the pain of snagging the tube on the side of the bed as I roll over at night). And I definitely refuse to have those fake, plastic-wrapped-up-in-plastic hospital food service utensils. If you can’t feed me with real ceramic and metal, don’t feed me. When I’m perishing, I don’t want to be surrounded by styrofoam things that will outlive the rest of the planet.
There are my rambling thoughts about place of death. Remember, though; I’ve seen a lot, so there might be a bit of weight in the words.
Dr. Clay Jackson is the medical director for Methodist Hospice & Palliative Services team. For more information about Hospice & Palliative Care Services, call or . All opinions expressed here are those of their authors and not of their employer. Information provided here is for medical education only. It is not intended as and does not substitute for medical advice.
More to Hospice & Palliative Care
Fri, 4/16/2010 9:36 AM
As director of Methodist Hospice and Palliative Services, I supervise the medical care of about three to four thousand patients per year, most of whom die. It’s a unique job, in that the careers of most physicians are focused on healing, whereas mine involves a different portion of the illness spectrum. I see a good bit of healing, as well, but I’ve had to reframe how I view the concept—it may be coming to terms with illness, rather than ‘beating it’ to rejoin the flow of life as it was before the dreaded diagnosis.
I often field questions from patients and colleagues about what it is that drew me to this work, or how I keep from being drained by the emotional toll of dealing with death on a daily basis. In the first instance, I’ve felt called to palliative medicine for a long time. I ‘backed into’ medicine as a way of leveraging science to try an understand people. Having trained as a minister, working with the hospice and palliative care teams seemed a natural progression as I explored the ultimate questions of meaning, purpose and hope that humans encounter in our journey.
With respect to keeping my battery charged, that’s pretty easy. Although this work can be emotionally draining, it’s also incredibly rewarding. I get the chance to collect stories—sixty-year marriages, prodigals who returned (and those who didn’t), and all the backdrop of the lives lived by the ‘greatest generation.’ I also take time to get away from the work with the imminently terminal, whether it’s in my private family practice, with my church community, or with my family and friends. All in all, it makes for a fulfilling life—one I wouldn’t trade.
Dr. Clay Jackson is the medical director for Methodist Alliance Hospice and Palliative Services Director. For more information about Hospice & Palliative Care Services, call 901.516.1616 or 800.726.2559. All opinions expressed here are those of their authors and not of their employer. Information provided here is for medical education only. It is not intended as and does not substitute for medical advice.
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