Friday, March 27, 2009

NFL Player Stopped for Traffic Infraction on Way to See Dying Mother-in-Law

You must watch this video. 

The player, Ryan Moats is trying to get himself, his wife, and another family member to the hospital in time to see his mother-in-law before she dies. Clearly, he is not concerned with having run stop signs and red lights; he has bigger issues on his mind. 

Now, I understand he has broken traffic laws, and the officer has a right to question him about it, but what reasonable human being wouldn't understand the gravity of the situation? How could he not have waited for Moats to visit his mother-in-law before he wrote the ticket?

I think it's pretty clear from the video that Moats does not care one iota about his offenses. The only compliance he is offering is to get the officer off his back. 

And a couple of things are particularly shocking about the officer's behavior to me:
1) he pulls his gun right when he leaves the car
2) he tells Moats that his attitude sucks. I'm sorry officer, whose attitude sucks? 

I'm just glad the wife and the other family member were badass enough to ignore the officer and walk into the hospital despite his orders. 

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Facing Facebook

We've all had a teacher or two who really inspired us. 

For my sister, it was her high school art teacher, Mrs. Saad. 

Yesterday, she found out via Facebook that Mrs. Saad had suddenly passed away at a fairly young age. 

It occurs to me, before our age of new media, this is probably something my sister would have found out about much further down the road—as gossip through a friend, or at her next school reunion. Now, she is struggling with the tragedy of how this woman's life ended prematurely, and also the immediacy of the news. 

I wonder how it will change grieving that the entire community of people who know and knew someone can instantaneously become aware of their passing. Is this healthier, or is this more than we should be expected to handle?

Torture on Television

Once again on Lost last night we saw that torture works as a means of extracting reliable information. 

Experts in information gathering repeatedly tells us that torture is not a way to gather reliable information, and yet TV shows like 24 and Lost continue to show it as a way of finding out the truth. 

In last night's episode, the truth that was found out was so outrageous, no one believed it anyway ... but it was actually the truth. 

I love Lost, so I'm not turning against the show because of this facet of it, but it does continually annoy me that they insist on glorifying the usefulness of torture. 

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

"Freak Accidents"

Just wanted to restate something I said in my post last week about Natasha Richardson.

I called her fall a freak accident. While it is accurately an accident and is undoubtedly tragic, calling it "freak" makes it sound more out-of-the-ordinary than is accurate. And as I have written before, falls are the third most common cause of accidental death.

I don't want to be sensationalistic now, do I?

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Prostate Cancer Screening

The New England Journal of Medicine has this study about the effectiveness of prostate cancer screening. Researchers looked at two large groups of men—one group was administered annual prostate cancer screenings, the other group was considered control and was allowed to handle screening however they and their health-care professionals would regardless of the study.

After 7 to 10 years, there was no significant difference between the two groups in terms of deaths from cancer.

I am especially interested in this issue because, back when I worked in bioethics at the University of Washington, prostate cancer screening was one of the primary topics we focused on.

If this issue is new to you, you might wonder why a cancer screening test would need to be studied. Well, it's not entirely clear how effective prostate cancer screening is for several reasons.

To test for prostate cancer, men are screened for a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) in their bloodstream. Sometimes a false positive can be created through the PSA test. Also, prostate cancer can either be fast growing or it can be very slow growing. The fast-growing type obviously needs to be addressed. If a man has the slow-growing type, he may die of something else before the cancer ever becomes an issue for him. In addition, many of the treatments for prostate cancer have major side effects—pain and discomfort but also impotence and incontinence.

Obviously this test can and does save lives. The bottom line is, whether to test for prostate cancer is a complicated decision that should be discussed between patient and doctor. Unfortunately, once a man reaches 50, many doctors just give the PSA test as a regular part of treatment without discussing the pros and cons of it at all.

I hope this study making the news will create more discussion about prostate cancer screening.

Sleeping Beauty

Dethmama sent me a note about Rosalia Lombardo—an Italian girl who died on December 6, 1920, and was embalmed for preservation. She has been nicknamed Sleeping Beauty because, in many ways, she appears to be just sleeping.

She is in remarkably good condition still, and her corpse is housed in the Capuchin Catacombs in Palermo, which I posted about below.

Just a little more information to add to the thread on strange burial sites that seems to have become the theme for this week.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Economy Hits the Funeral Industry

The Seattle Times has what I think is a fascinating article today about hard economic times hitting the funeral industry.

People are cutting back on the level of service they set up for deceased loved-ones, ornate details, things like that. Some are hosting receptions at their own homes instead of having catered events.

It makes sense. Why go into debt over a death? I can understand wanting to put on a grand last hurrah for someone you loved, but not to the point that it hurts your bottom line.

Maybe, this economy will help people question the funeral industry more.

There are a lot of unexpected costs associated with burial, funerals, receptions, etc. It can cost a lot more than family and friends anticipate it will. And I don't want to imply that those are necessarily inflated expenses, but sometimes, people are so stressed and emotional, they just sign away without really thinking about whether they want or need to pay for a certain expense. This could be a possible positive fallout of a bad economy.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Security Helmets

I don't want to write too much about this because I think this is a time during which this family deserves privacy ... but I want to point out how good the human brain is at finding ways to create the myth of our own safety.

Actress Natasha Richardson is in critical condition due to a tragic ski accident on a beginner, bunny hill. Just one of those freak accidents, a terrible, terrible event, and unfortunately, something that happens in life every once in a while.

News reports coming out about this immediately pointed to the fact that she was skiing without a helmet.

I think writers included this fact so readers could feel a false sense of security. You read that and think, "Oh, but I would wear a helmet and therefore, this would never happen to me." But my goodness. I am far from an avid skier, but I do live in the Pacific Northwest where people ski a lot, and nobody skis with a helmet.

Reporters have just thrown in this made up, miscellaneous safety precaution that Ms. Richardson was supposedly ignoring in order to give readers a phony safety blanket.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Religious Patients More Likely to Seek Aggressive, Life-Prolonging Care

The results of this study may seem somewhat contradictory, but they do not surprise me in the least.

A new study, to be published tomorrow in the Journal of the American Medical Association, reports that, of terminally ill cancer patients, those who were devoutly religious, were almost three times as likely to seek aggressive, life-prolonging care, and they were less likely to do advance care planning—living wills, DNR orders, appointing health care proxies, etc.

You might at first think that the religious would be ready to go on to the afterlife and therefore more comfortable with death and more prepared for it, but some of the anecdotal evidence I have heard from people in the medical field contradicts that supposition. Also, if you remember back to the Terri Schiavo case, it was self-identified religious groups fighting to keep her on life support.

Sometimes, theses issues overlap in ways that don't necessarily equate with common sense.

Neptune Memorial Reef

A follow up to my post below.

Here's a Fox News report on the Neptune Underwater Reef.

The "reef" is a man-feature. People's cremated remains are placed into the sculpture/reef and will potentially replenish the reef, nourish the fish, etc.

I can see being interested in this as a final resting place if you were an avid scuba diver or loved the ocean. But I don't buy the whole, "giving back to the earth" angle as a primary motivation, which the CEO pushes.

Heck, if you like the idea, more power to you. Personally, it CREEPS ME OUT!

Extraordinary Burial Sites

I'd be curios if any of these actually appeal to anyone out there.

Mental_floss points us to 8 extraordinary burial sites. I've included photos of just a few:

*The Capuchin Catacombs in Palermo, Italy. Yes, those are preserved, mummified remains.
*The hanging coffins on limestone cliffs in Sagada, Philippines.
*The underwater Neptune Memorial Reef off the coast of Florida.

I get chills just looking at them ... but they are fascinating. And I would be quite curious to visit some of the sites. Especially the hanging coffins in the Philippines.

Thanks to Christian Sinclair for the link!

So what if this is just an excuse to post this video?

Another slow day at work, which means more YouTube time

Russia has announced it is modernizing and expanding its military, which led a coworker and me to a discussion about how much more open and direct—sometimes even darker—the Russian sensibility can be when dealing with military operations and even death in general.

Some YouTube searching of their military technology led us to this video, which looks to be propaganda in favor of one of their tanks. It's brilliant.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Death isn't just for dead people

So, a bit of an offbeat post, but it's been a slow day at work, and I have been watching episodes of the live-action Tick series on YouTube.

Here are a couple of clips of the Tick waxing philosophical on death. The first one starts right out and goes until about the 50-second mark. The second clip starts about 35 seconds in.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Dog Funeral from 1921

Christian Sinclair sent me this great photo of a dog funeral from 1921. 

You can see it in more detail, along with a fairly heated discussion about whether money should be spent on a headstone for a dog, at this link

I'm sure it surprises no one that people are paying tribute to deceased pets. We've talked before about the debate over being buried with your pet. 

But it's great to see an actual photograph documenting the interest. I love that it's such a social occasion—several friends have gathered, bringing their dogs along, all to mourn "Buster" together. And I love knowing that the modern American obsession with dogs is at least 90 years old. 

Stay of Execution

The Washington State Supreme Court has issued a stay for the execution of Cal Coburn Brown, who had been scheduled to die by lethal injection at 12:01 a.m. this Friday (tomorrow). 

The stay was issued on the grounds that the supreme court would like time for courts to determine whether lethal injection constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. That matter will come before county court in May. 

I can't imagine what an emotional roller coaster this situation is for everyone personally involved. 

More details on the case and the stay are available at The Seattle Times


Much of our communication is nonverbal.

I'm not going to throw out any percents here ... but I don't think anyone would argue that a lot of times, the way we get a message from Point A to Point B has nothing to do with language.

This film, which was forwarded to me by filmmaker Bill Kersey, is a poignant example of just how powerful silence can be.

The film's official description: " The story of a man, his grief and his guitar is told through music and a lyrical montage of still images."

Both sweet and moving, it's only three minutes long, and definitely worth your time.

Washington State's First Execution in Eight years

For most of the past six months, my home state has been on the verge of its first execution since 2001.

Two separate executions have been cycling through the legal system. One is the possible execution of Darold Stenson, who was convicted of killing his wife and business partner in 1993. A judge ordered a stay on that execution in early December (for at least 90 days). I'm not sure where it stands right now.  

And now, it appears, barring any further appeals, that Cal Coburn Brown will be executed at 12:01 am on Friday—in other words, late tonight, early tomorrow morning.  

The immediate prospect of an execution always raises the issue of whether the legal system should be killing people, especially in an area like Washington where it doesn't happen very often. 

Here, from the Seattle Times is a pro–death penalty piece and a con–death penalty piece. Anyone else care to add their voice? 

Friday, March 6, 2009

Palliative Care Grand Rounds, Volume One, Issue Three ...

... will be hosted right here, on Wednesday April 1.

If you have tips or ideas for things for me to add—stories, radio programs, articles, blog entries, whatever—on death, dying, end-of-life care, palliative care, anything like that, please forward them along.

You can email them to me at Or just drop them into the comments section of any blog entry for this month, and I'll probably get the message that way, too.

And don't forget to check out Palliative Care Grand Rounds, Volume One, Issue Two, currently up at dethmama's blog!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Blogger on vacation!

Hi guys.

Expect light posting between now and March 12th or so because I am on vacation. I may still log on here and there, but I definitely will not be up to my normal volume.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Cherry Blossoms

I was looking through my archives, and I don't think I ever posted about this film. 

So ... I'm a bit of a sentimental sap, but I cry watching this trailer. 

It's playing in Seattle for just a week, and I'm going to be out of town for six of those days. I'm hoping I can figure out how to get there that last day. 

I love the conflicting views of what makes a satisfying life—the hedonistic husband who is happy with his daily pleasure of having a loving relationship with his wife versus the epicurean wife who wants to have the big, grand adventure of seeing Mt. Fuji. The music. The acting. You expect the husband to be the one to go, and then it's the wife. That moment when he's on the bed, and he has laid her clothes out next to him. And then he packs up her clothes so he can take "her" to Mt. Fuji with him finally. 

Just beautiful ...


You should check out dethmama's blog right now for two reasons. 

1) She has a great story about her first experience with "the unexplained" in the passing of a patient. 

2) On March 4, she is hosting the second round of Palliative Care Grand Rounds—a monthly blog carnival highlighting what's out there in cyberspace that covers issues of hospice care, death, dying, grieving, caregiving, etc. It's your best opportunity this month to see what the cyber community is writing about these topics. And dethmama is a gripping writer, so I'm sure her turn at the rounds is something not to be missed. 

Death with Dignity Specifics Adopted ... and Not Adopted

Another article on the difficulties of implementing Washington's new death with dignity law, again, it is specifically focused on who will be choosing to opt out of the law and who will be choosing to administer it. (Individual pharmacists, doctors, hospitals, etc., are allowed to choose under the legislation.)

It will be interesting to see how all of this plays out.

One example: if you read this article closely, you will note that, while the University of Washington has not decided to opt out of implementing the law, the director of palliative care consult services at the UW does not plan to prescribe any lethal medications to his patients for now. He will instead refer them to Compassion & Choices of Washington.

Contradictions like these are sure to run throughout the system. I just hope there isn't too much confusion. We all know how confusing the healthcare system already is.

Must Read After My Death

After his grandmother's death, Filmmaker Morgan Dews discovered a mass of audio recordings, home movies, photographs, and written journals detailing the turbulent lives of his grandmother's family in the 1960s. Using these materials, Dews has created a movie that the film's site says "affords fly-on-the-wall access to one family's struggles amid an America on the verge of dramatic transformation."

Thanks to Christian Sinclair for the link. (You're practically filling my blog this week!)

Most unusual are dictaphone recordings left by Dews' grandparents in which they offer shockingly honest comments about the state of their marriage and family. You can see some of that in the YouTube clip.

Also, you don't have to wait for this film to hit theaters or come to rental. If you're interested in Must Read After My Death, simply go to the film's website, and you can purchase a copy for play on your computer for only $2.99. Pretty neat.

I plan to watch it, although I haven't gotten around to it yet. And fair warning, I'm notoriously bad at actually watching movies that I plan to watch.