Tag Archives: death

On when to let go

My former colleague, Charlie Ornstein over at ProPublica, wrote a thought-provoking, emotional piece on the costs of end-of-life care. As a health care reporter (one of the best in the business; he was a Pulitzer Prize recipient at the LA Times), he has written a lot about how end-of-life care is often prolonged beyond reason – account for as much as 25% of Medicare payments in the last year of a patient’s life. But when his mother was dying, he writes, “none of my years of reporting had prepared me for this moment, this decision.”

My father, sister and I sat in the near-empty Chinese restaurant, picking at our plates, unable to avoid the question that we’d gathered to discuss: When was it time to let Mom die?

It had been a grueling day at the hospital, watching — praying — for any sign that my mother would emerge from her coma. Three days earlier she’d been admitted for nausea; she had a nasty cough and was having trouble keeping food down. But while a nurse tried to insert a nasogastric tube, her heart stopped. She required CPR for nine minutes. Even before I flew into town, a ventilator was breathing for her, and intravenous medication was keeping her blood pressure steady. Hour after hour, my father, my sister and I tried talking to her, playing her favorite songs, encouraging her to squeeze our hands or open her eyes.

You can read the rest of Charlie’s story here.

Charlie’s piece brought to mind an equally powerful but hard-to-read story written by Atul Gawande for the New Yorker, “Letting Go (2010)

Questionable Psychic #392: Missing Jacquelyn Kotarac

Dr. Jacquelyn Kotarac, photographed in 2007.

Dr. Jacquelyn Kotarac, photographed in 2007.

There’s no point in piling upon the sordid, awful, pointless death of Jacquelyn Kotarac, a respected 49-year-old doctor who apparently got stuck in the chimney of her estranged boyfriend’s home while trying to break in, and where she was found dead after her body decomposed.

But this small related detail in the Bakersfield Californian follow-up was absurd enough on its own.

Following the missing person report, the doctor’s family consulted a psychic who couldn’t feel the doctor’s presence, according to Wayne Wallace, a private investigator. He said he was consulted by the family Saturday to look into Kotarac’s disappearance.

I don’t fault the family doing whatever it could out of desperation. But this psychic’s credentials should be reevaluated, if he/she didn’t help in cracking the case. It’s not clear what “couldn’t feel the doctor’s presence” means. Did the psychic rightly detect that Dr. Kotarac was no longer with the living? Or was the psychic just giving an untestable answer, which would cover everything from Kotarac’s death to her taking a spontaneous trip to Malibu or being kidnapped by Bigfoot.

Psychic-patronizing friends of mine tell me that a psychic can’t be bothered with predicting concrete yet unknown facts…or else, why would a good psychic be begging for $2 a palm read when he/she could win the Powerball? It’s about feeling “energy” (even so, it seems that at least some facts should be basic for a psychic to predict: one of my friends had her session recorded, and the psychic asked if she was an only child…something that just about any dolt could divine after a 30-second Q&A of non-direct questions about her childhood).

OK, but if you’re a psychic who can’t detect the “energy” from the sheer horror of someone dying in a chimney (as a result of a fit of jealous love and rage)…what would you say, you do here?