Thursday, February 26, 2009

Remembering Gene Siskel

Roger Ebert wrote a touching, informative piece about Gene Siskel on the recent 10 year anniversary of his death. It was interesting to learn more about their TV partnership but especially about the way Siskel faced cancer and, ultimately, his death.

Stuart called us in France: "Gene is having surgery." We wanted to call and send him flowers. "I don't know where he is," Stuart said. "He didn't tell me." We later found out it was Sloan-Kettering in New York. There was a statement that Gene had undergone tests and was recovering after a procedure. Gene took some time off (together we chose Tom Shales of the Washington Post to sit in for him). When he returned to the show, he was obviously ill, but we never discussed his health, except to agree that he was recovering--recovering from what, was never said.
I understood this at the time, and understand it better now. Gene was a competitor. He knew all about odds, and they were against him. But from that summer through the following February, he continued to attend screenings and do the show. He was often in his seat at Bulls games. What he went through, only Marlene knew. He spoke to his family about his illness, but to no one else, not even his best friends. He was unhappy when the Tribune ran an item saying his recovery was "on schedule." He asked, "What schedule? Whose schedule?"
Before his final shows, the studio was cleared so that his nephew could help him walk onto the set and take his seat. No mention was made of his illness. He taped his last program a week or two before his death. His pain must have been unimaginable. But he continued to do his job, and I never admired him more. Our eyes would meet, unspoken words were between us, but we never spoke openly about his problems or his prognosis. That's how he wanted it, and that was his right. In a way, we had that our talk on that night in Cambridge. We talked about what mattered.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Bucket List Update

Several of you have wondered what Jim, my Bucket List patient, has been up to lately. The last time I wrote about him, he had just gone skydiving and lived to tell the tale. Jim has slowed down somewhat since then but he's still whittling down his Bucket List as best as he can. In the next couple of months, we'll be working on getting him out for a ride on a racetrack and traveling down to Springfield to visit Lincoln Memorial. Right now I'm not sure that either will be possible because of his increased weakness and lethargy but I'm trying to stay optimistic. Jim, of course, is always optimistic! I tracked down a Bible on DVD so he could start working on his goal of "reading" the entire Bible. His eyesight has been playing tricks on him so it has worked out better for him to see and hear the words on a bigger screen. This has also helped him with another BL item: starting a Bible study with friends. Two men have been coming over Friday afternoons to discuss a few passages of Scripture and Jim seems to really enjoy this interaction.

This morning I took Jim and Jan to Spain. Well, I wish I could have taken them on the real trip but we made do by bringing Spain to Jim. I rented two Spain travel DVDs, made them cafe con leche, and showed them pictures from my vacation. Jan rummaged up a Spanish music CD, some marzipan (so good!), and even some castenets. We had a nice fiesta together and Jim felt he had a better understanding of what the country was like. He still wishes he could go there himself but this was a good Plan B.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Truth About Health Insurance

I watched documentarian Michael Moore's "Sicko" this morning and was blown away. Sure, Moore tends to be biased towards his own point of view (look no further than the marvelously incediary Fahrenheit 9/11) but I felt this was one of his more balanced works. Yes, he's pro-universal healthcare but, given that our healthcare industry is spiraling out of conrol, what is a better alternative? I really would like to know if there is a better alternative. The documentary is 2 hours long and filled with heartwrenching stories. Keep the Kleenex handy.

Moore does a great job of showing how the political and healthcare worlds are closely linked. Just look at the health industry contributions from the 2008 election cycle. The concept of health insurance started in 1971 under Nixon's presidency and we've been the victims of for-profit healthcare ever since. I'm employed by a hospital and there doesn't seem to be such a thing as non-for-profit healthcare. Last year, my hospice made the hospital a profit; meanwhile, we're markedly understaffed, overworked, even underpaid. If only we could go back to 1971 and push a reset button! What would it take for hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, and health insurance to charge actual cost? Even though more and more people are unable to afford insurance and medication (my patients are a daily reminder of this fact), I fear what it would take to loosen the talons of the health insurance and pharmaceutical giants. They certainly fear the idea of universal healthcare which is why they've been telling us the "evils" of going that route for a few decades. Moore includes a clip of none other than Ronald Reagan telling Americans why socialized healthcare is wrong- this was during his Hollywood days. Too bad we can't take the healthcare industry's profits and give it to the people needing healthcare.

Moore makes the point that only socialized healthcare is considered evil; we're all for socialism when it comes to our schools, libraries, and police and fire forces. I studied the healthcare systems in Canada, England, Sweden, and France in one of my sociology classes in college. No system is perfect but I was hard pressed to find a reason not to embrace universal healthcare, especially given our alternative. My health insurance takes a big chunk out of my paycheck and I am blessed that I rarely go to the doctor. (Although, knowing that I won't ever reach my yearly deductible also leads to me delaying MD visits as well. I'm a bad patient.) There is something insidious about a system that does everything but help the sick. Just look at this article about University of Chicago ER doctors' new practices of redirecting patients that need care. It should chill us all to the bone. We should help people regardless of their ability to pay. Might I suggest that everyone in the healthcare industry, from the insurance and drug companies to the hospital CEOs, be required to take the Hippocratic oath? If the United States truly lived by the premise, "first, do no harm," we likely would not face many of the issues we currently face. Thanks for letting me vent. I welcome hearing your thoughts.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Get Fuzzy

I've enjoyed the recent Get Fuzzy storyline involving the death of Satchel's friend's goldfish. "Putting the 'fun' in funeral"...even now it makes me laugh! It may be slightly darker humor but that's what we hospice types like!

Get Fuzzy

Get Fuzzy

Get Fuzzy

Get Fuzzy

Get Fuzzy

Thursday, February 19, 2009


You might get a little choked up reading this article but I hope you'll be encouraged to read about how rivaling high school basketball teams supported a player whose mother suddenly died the day of the big game. I hope the lesson stays with those young men for many years to come.

Monday, February 16, 2009


I only have a few minutes but I wanted to let you all know that Spain was fantastic! I felt so refreshed and relaxed, had a great time catching up with my friends, and did just enough touristy things to feel like I better understood the country. The time away gave me some clarity about a few areas of my life, which I'll probably share at a later date. In any case, I cannot wait to go back and explore more of this beautiful country!
I was on-call for most of this weekend and actually had to make visits and phone calls (normally the psychosocial on-call doesn't hear the phone ring at all.) Suffice it to say, I'm feeling a little less relaxed and refreshed due to the on-call and lingering jet lag. There's a certain paranoia that accompanies being on-call. You're either waiting for the phone to ring or fearing what you're going to have to do once it starts ringing. Once I'm on the visit, I'm OK because I know the family needs me. And they seem extra appreciative since they know it's taking time out of my weekend. The weekend reminded me what this job is all about. Is my Saturday morning crossword puzzle more important than helping a family come to grips with their mother starting hospice? The crossword puzzle would still be there when I get home; for the moment, I was where I needed to be.

Sunday, February 01, 2009


No matter how badly you know you need a vacation, there's usually a sense of guilt that accompanies time off from helping professions. Guilt that you won't be there for your patients/clients, maybe guilt that your coworkers may have to do some follow-up or take over your caseload. Tomorrow I leave to visit a friend in Madrid for a week. I can happily report that this time I feel no such guilt about taking some time for myself, perhaps due to my current level of burn out. In any case, I hope that this time away will be refreshing and that I will come back with tales of adventure.