Susan E. Mazer, Ph.D. Blog

Thoughts and ideas on healthcare

Hi, and welcome to my blog! I'm Susan E. Mazer -- a knowledge expert and thought leader on how the environment of care impacts the patient experience. Topics I write about include safety, satisfaction, hospital noise, nursing, care at the bedside, and much more.

The Time is Now for End of Life Conversations

September 27, 2013

http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-images-clock-face-image14895374In the busy-ness of this technological age, it is so easy to lose track of the real value of in-person sharing. I know that for me, email is now part of my DNA, part of how I breathe, and part of how relationships form, live, and, in most cases, thrive.

However, there are some discussions that need to take place in person, heart-to-heart, soul-to-soul.

The Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI) has started a community, “Conversation Ready,“, whose entire mission is facilitating, encouraging, investing in having end of life conversations. It is easy to see this as a talk for the elderly, but in truth, we are all at the end of life because we don’t really know when that’s going to be.

Being clear on a daily basis about what matters is the formula for a purposeful life when meaning trumps the distractions that take over over lives.

When my dad was in his late 70s, he was obsessed with everything being handled. My mom had already died and he had remarried. He, as always, was a man of his word in taking care of his wife.

So, I sat down with him and told him that it would be best if we made a list of things to do if he really checked out. So, we did that. The list showed my dad’s sense of humor, with things like: “Now, stop crying. You know we have talked about this.”  Or, “Stop being angry about my socks next to the bed. I just could not help myself.”

The list stayed on my computer until Dad finally died at age 86. When we looked at it and read it at his funeral, we realized it had become his “Dead-Me Scrolls.” Because it was his voice, his laughter, his love. It was Dad.

These conversations do not happen easily unless they have been ongoing for many years. The challenge is who initiates the discussion and with whom to have it. Adult children of an aging parent? An aging parent who has adult children? Each family is so different and the dynamics include the boundaries of appropriate and inappropriate topics.

So, the good news is that all of us have the same challenge. But there is no formula for it. Look into the IHI Conversation Ready Community. Become comfortable with not knowing what will happen and realize that it does take a community.