In a world1 where recording the goings-on when you’re knocked out for a medical procedure may turn out to be one of the better ideas you’ve had that week, and where typing “doctors behaving” into Google autocompletes to variations on “doctors behaving badly” with a high ranking search result of a Google map that provides “a tour of state medical boards, how they discipline physicians and how they inform the public,” let’s take a moment to talk about some medical research that entails some special nice time, which may not seem like special nice time because it’s about death and dying, but just bear with us.

A study from a team out of McMaster University published this week in Annals of Internal Medicine sought to quantify the positive impact on patients, families and clinicians in asking and honoring wishes of patients dying in an intensive care unit in St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton in Ontario, Canada.2

The project, dubbed the 3 Wishes Project, was kind of like Make-A-Wish, but not just for children. And rather than big-ticket items like trips to Disney World, the 3 Wishes Project centered on more simple, humble requests with price tags of $200 or less. Examples of wishes granted were providing a patient with flowers or mementoes, planting trees in a patient’s name, reconnecting patients with relatives, and facilitating renewal of wedding vows.

Analysis of the project outcomes showed that such wish-granting before or after the death of a patient “personalized the dying process” for not only the patients and families but the clinicians as well.

“For patients, eliciting and customizing the wishes honored them by celebrating their lives and dignifying their deaths. For families, it created positive memories and individualized end-of-life care for their loved ones. For clinicians, it promoted interprofessional care and humanism in practice.”

We wager that’s just about as cuddly a bundle of verbiage as you’ll ever find in the pages of the Annals of Internal Medicine. Now see – death and dying really CAN involve special nice time. And before you protest that you’re all death-resistant,3 Braveheart has something you tell you.

  1. Which will forever never not be in Don LaFontain’s voice

  2. Deborah Cook, MD; Marilyn Swinton, MSc; Feli Toledo, MDiv; France Clarke, RRT; Trudy Rose, BA, MTS; Tracey Hand-Breckenridge, MDiv; Anne Boyle, BScN, MD; Anne Woods, MD, MDiv; Nicole Zytaruk, RN; Diane Heels-Ansdell, MSc; and Robert Sheppard, MD “Personalizing Death in the Intensive Care Unit: The 3 Wishes Project: A Mixed-Methods Study” Annals of Internal Medicine, July 14 2015 (online)

  3. “So masterfully do we hide death, you would almost believe we are the first generation of immortals.” – Caitlin Doughty, quoted in “Death – No Bigs,” Bitter Empire

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