...the Journal

The Guest
Refrigerator Door

For the next few weeks, we'll be seeing magnets from Ned & Marta's refrigerator door.

Ned says I brought this to him after my trip to DC last year (which is also the "one year ago" link below--when I met Tipper Gore)

Here are some of my theatre reviews, if you're interested.

Updated 3/10/01


A Heartbreaking Work
of Staggering Genius

by David Eggers



That's it for today!


29 April 2001

I have spent the past two days talking about and listening to information about death. Steve and I went to Stanford to attend "The Wisdom Projectís" conference on the Contemplation of Death, Dying, and End-of-Life Care. Steve was scheduled to perform at Friday nightís session, and at the close of Saturdayís sessions.

The speakers included a doctor working in hospice care, a hospital chaplain, the head of the Hemlock Society, a psychiatrist specializing in women with metastatic breast cancer, the head of Stanfordís medical bioethics department, and an advocate for health care directives. Steve represented what itís like to be a dying patient. Given the number of hugs he got, I guess he was the "hands on" part of the conference.

Steve remembers his best friend Dickie,
who died last year

Since the advent of managed care, we have seen, in this country, what appears to be the continuing decline of patient care, to be replaced by less personal, more cost efficient practices, reduced client-doctor hours, refusal of insurance companies to cover procedures or medications, and shortened hospital stays.

The overall sense is that the field of medicine has turned into a business which cares less and less for the individual and more and more for making a buck. I remember when I was managing an ob/gyn office, I would read the professional newspapers which arrived each week, increasingly appalled to discover that the first few pages were routinely devoted to articles about how to make more money, handle your investments, where to go on vacation, how to reduce patient hours, etc., etc. and it was only on page 5 or so where you would begin to find articles strictly concerned with patient care.

The past two days have provided an encouraging eye-opener to the mindset of at least one segment of the medical establishment, and its dedication to improving end-of-life conditions, and making death (something each of us will experience, no matter how technologically advanced this civilization becomes!) a more positive experience. As one speaker put it, why are we working so hard to make childbirth natural, and death such a technical nightmare.

In his opening speech, "Seatbelts are Carcinogenic," Dr. James Hallenbeck (medical director of the VA†Hospice Center) pointed out that all the advances we have made in disease cures have simply increased the death rate from other causes. We all die of something. So now that we donít die in our 30s of influenza or pneumonia, we are dying in our 70s or 80s of cancer, a disease which is more likely to develop the older we get. No matter what we do, we canít cure death itself.

He, and all the other speakers, talked about how to demystify death, to remove the fear, to put the patient in control--whether by keeping him/her alive at all costs, if that is the desire, or to allow death to come naturally with minimal medical intervention. They spoke of the importance of the support of family and friends and how the medical community can help people support the loved one who is dying.

The chaplain, Bruce Feldstein (also a physician), talked about his experiences in speaking with dying patients and how the time spent in actually listening to the patient helped that person accept his/her diagnosis and face the end of life in a much more peaceful manner. Dr. Feldstein's stories mesh so well with the Hannah Stories, written by a hospice social worker, which are posted on Steve's web site, that he talked with the doctor about contributing his own stories for the site.

We heard statistics and saw slides and listened to comments from angry people in the audience who had (and were having) negative experiences. But the overriding theme of the two days was that there is a group of medical professionals who are working very hard to help each of us experience a positive death, and to help our loved ones learn how to be with us in a way that is healing for both of us.

Dr. Ernie Young, the head of
Stanford's Medical Bioethics Dept.

Steve and I had a good time. We shared a room in the funky old Cardinal Hotel, where there was an elegant lobby and the elevator didnít work, so we had to haul our luggage upstairs to our room.

We ate at an old fashioned diner, built in 1927, where the burgers came on home-made buns and you could order a chocolate malt or egg cream (if you donít have diabetes, which Steve does).

Steve performed a full show on Friday night and then at the conclusion of the conference on Saturday, they invited participants into an adjacent lounge, where he did a few more songs to close out the event.

But the highlight of the two days, at least for Steve, was when someone asked me if I was his mother. I expect heís going to get a lot of mileage out of that one.


One Year Ago:
Meeting Tipper

Some pictures from this journal
can be found at
Club Photo

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Created 4/25/01 by Bev Sykes