I am glad I braved the downpour of rain to attend the “It’s Ok To Die” lecture by Monica Williams-Murphy, MD at the Temple B’nai Sholom Synagogue tonight. This blog post will share the great wisdom of Dr. Williams-Murphy, who is an Emergency Room physician at Huntsville Hospital, and co-author of the book “It’s Ok To Die.”
DR. MONICA WILLIAMS-MURPHY, MD (RIGHT IN RED SWEATER)
Did you know 90 percent of Americans wish to die at home, yet 70 percent die in an institution, such as a hospital or nursing home? (Dr. Williams-Murphy calls this the 70-90 Dilemma.) Did you know only 20 to 30 percent of Americans have Advanced Health Care Directives? Yet, if you fill out an Advanced Care Directive, it can help make dying in your home, versus an institution, more likely to happen.
Dr. Williams-Murphy’s experiences in the emergency room (ER) led her to crusade for more humane dying practices in America. She shared the story of a 90 year old woman who was brought into the ER. This woman was paralzyed and her arms and legs were contracted from years of disuse. She had been lying in a nursing home for the past 10 years, unable to speak. This woman was designated as a “Full Code”, which means all medical technology should be employed. Dr. Williams-Murphy listened to fluid filling this woman’s dying lungs and went to talk to her three daughters about her mother’s imminent death. To the daughters’ credit, they visited their mother every day in the nursing home. When Dr. Williams-Murphy told them their mother was dying, they reiterated that they wanted everything medically possible done for their beloved mother. Sadly, the mother died alone in the ICU the next day.
Dr. Williams-Murphy also witnessed good deaths in her ER. One day a man was dying. She went out to the waiting room and informed his daughter. The daughter came back to the room where her dad was lying, told him she loved him dearly, and that it was okay for him to go, and that she would would see him one day again in Paradise. He died with his daughter holding his hand and with a smile on his face.
In her career, Dr. Williams-Murphy has witnessed more “pitiful” deaths than “good” deaths. She would come home and emote and vent to her husband about the happenings in the ER. He replied, “Well, you ought to write a book.” She took his words to heart and they both wrote, “It’s Ok To Die.” They subsequently have lectured all over the United States advocating for “good deaths.” Dr. Williams-Murphy emphasized that a “good death” does not mean physician-assisted suicide, which is a she practice abhors. The American Medical Association does not support physician-assisted suicide also.
How do we stop the 90 -70 dilemma? There are three things that must happen, according to Dr. Williams-Murphy. They are:
1. We must begin to discuss death and dying in our culture. I agree with Dr. Williams-Murphy when she suggested, “Hey, lets have a reality TV show on dying. They have reality shows on every other area of life. One scene could be a family building a pine coffin in their yard or the family holding Grandma’s hand’s when she is dying.”
2. We need to learn the six things to be said to improve the quality of human relationships. They are “Please forgive me”; “I forgive you”; “Thank You”, “I love you”; “It’s ok for you to go”; and “Good Bye.”
3. While there is a place for high-tech medicine, we need decreased utilization of advanced scientific technology.
Rabbi Elizabeth Bahar contributed this thought, “In Judaism, you are to repent from your sins the day before you die. Since you do not know when you are going to die, Jews are to repent daily for their sins. This fits in with Dr. Williams-Muphy’s recommendation to forgive and ask for forgiveness.”
Dr. Williams-Murphy noted that all religious traditions have stories in their scriptures about people sharing their wisdom with others. She said our own lives are no less sacred, and that we should write down our stories/wisdom for others. This can be your great legacy. She shared this quote from Eli Wiesel to illustrate this point, “Whoever survives the test must tell his story.” She urged us to start now because we do not know when we are going to die, and in the words of William Shakespeare, “Be still prepared for death – and death or life shall thereby be the sweeter.”
Both Dr. Williams-Murphy and her co-author husband, Kristian, encourage you to complete an Advance Directive for Health Care. They can be obtained from your local hospital. Of note, every state has different laws concerning Advanced Health Care Directives. I encourage you to visit their website, www.oktodie.com for further information. You can also follow them on Facebook and Twitter.
Steve Jobs counseled, “Live Every Day Like It Will Be Your Last, Because One Day You Will Be Right.” Amen.
Below: Co-author Kristian Murphy with his daughter