Are Near-Death Experiences Real?

In a November 4, 2022 Medscape article titled “‘Lucid Dying’: EEG Backs Near-Death Experience During CPR”, researchers found brain wave recordings taken during in hospital cardiac arrest resuscitation (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) lends support to near-death experiences reported by some people who survived cardiac arrest.

In the Medscape article and according to lead investigator Sam Parnia, MD, PhD:

“These recalled experiences and brain wave changes may be the first signs of the so-called ‘near-death’ experience, and we have captured them for the first time in a large study,” lead investigator Sam Parnia, MD, PhD, with NYU Langone Health, says in a news release.

Identifying measurable electrical signs of lucid and heightened brain activity during CPR, coupled with stories of recalled near-death experiences, suggests that the human sense of self and consciousness, much like other biological body functions, may not stop completely around the time of death, Parnia adds.” (Emphasis added)”

According to the article, the researchers used “audiovisual testing of awareness with continuous real-time EEG and cerebral oxygenation monitoring” during the resuscitation.

While only 53 of the 567 patients survived (9.3%), 28 survivors completed interviews with 11 reporting “unique, lucid experiences during resuscitation.”

According to Dr. Parnia:

“Our understanding of death has gone through a seismic shift in the last few years,” and

“The biological discoveries around death and the postmortem period are completely different to the social conventions that we have about death. That is, we perceive of death as being the end, but actually what we’re finding is that brain cells don’t die immediately. They die very slowly over many hours of time,” Parnia noted. (Emphasis added)

Dr. Parnia presented the findings November 6 at a resuscitation science symposium at the American Heart Association (AHA) Scientific Sessions 2022 in Chicago.

The Medscape article also noted that not everyone agrees:

“Ajmal Zemmar, MD, PhD, with University of Louisville, Louisville, Kentucky, noted that several studies, including this one, “challenge the traditional way that we think of death — that when the heart stops beating that’s when we die.”

The observation that during cardiac arrest and CPR, the brain waves are still normal for up to an hour is “fairly remarkable,” Zemmar told theheart.org | Medscape Cardiology.

“However, whether there is conscious perception or not is very hard to answer,” Zemmar cautioned. 

“This type of research tries to bridge the objective EEG recordings with the subjective description you get from the patient, but it’s hard to know when conscious perception stops,” he said.”

WHAT DOES THIS ALL MEAN?

Over the decades, there have been many studies of near-death experiences and an October 31,2022 Medscape article by a nurse practitioner who describes how both negative and positive near-death experiences can impact an individual.

There is even a 2020 Frontiers in Neurology article The Neurology of Death and the Dying Brain: A Pictorial Essay” that explores some of the potential effects of issues like near-death experiences on the clinical determinations of death and organ donation.

But whether or not you believe in near-death experiences, there is one crucial lesson here: We must always treat any ill person-awake or presumed unconscious-with the respect due any person when we talk to and care for them.

I have often told the story of “Mike”, a young man catastrophically injured in a car crash whose doctor said the if he survived, he would be a “vegetable”. We nurses talked to Mike and eventually he started to respond to us but not the doctor.

Mike was shipped off to a nursing home but almost two year later, he returned to thank us and told us he was getting married. When we laughed and told him how he started to respond to us but not the doctor, Mike became very serious and said he would not respond to the doctor because he heard the doctor call him a “vegetable”!

CONCLUSION

But my favorite story is about working on a medical floor caring for an elderly gentleman who was dying and showed no awareness of his 4 adult sons sitting at his bedside.

I encouraged his sons to talk to him, but they said they didn’t know what to say and didn’t think he could hear anyway.

I took the man’s hand and noticed that it was strong and callused like a man who worked with his hands.

I asked the sons was their dad did and they all started relating stories about his love of farming and then told funny stories about how their dad reacted to their antics growing up.

Pretty soon, all the sons were laughing and telling their dad how much they appreciated him as I quietly left at the end of my shift.

When I returned the next day for my next shift, I was not surprised to learn that the dad had peacefully died during the night with his sons at his side. But I was surprised to find that one of the sons stayed until I came back and wanted to talk to me.

“Lady, you were right! He did hear us!” he told me.

It turned out that the sons had continued talking to their dad after I left and when they said they were ready to leave, their dad opened his eyes, looked at them, smiled and then closed his eyes and peacefully died.

What a wonderful memory for his sons-and me!

New Study Shows Stem Cells and Prenatal Surgery Can Help Babies with Spina Bifida

Spina Bifida is a birth defect that occurs when the spine and spinal cord do not develop completely in an unborn baby. The resulting opening in the spine leaves  the spinal cord and nerves exposed.

That exposure can cause damage leading to paralysis or mobility problems, a buildup of excess fluid on the brain, and infection.

Spina Bifida can sometimes be diagnosed during pregnancy by a blood test, ultrasound or amniocentesis. Sometimes the diagnosis is not made until after birth.

Before the 1990s, treatment for severe spina bifida involved surgery on the baby after birth to close the defect but the procedure could not repair already damaged nerves.

In 1997, the first prenatal surgery was done and in 2011 and 2020, major studies showed that prenatal repair resulted in better outcomes.

But now, in an October 10, 2022 Medscape article Stem Cell Treatment Helps Babies with Spina Bifida”,  a clinical trial at UC Davis Health is showing that a new stem cell treatment-given while the unborn baby is still in the womb-appears to be effective at reversing paralysis and other problems caused by spina bifida in newborns.” (Emphasis added)

But, as the article rightly states,:

“The researchers have expressed caution about drawing full conclusions so far, but the treatment appears promising. They plan to release information about how the babies are doing at developmental milestones throughout the study process.” (Emphasis added)

The clinical trial started in 2021 and involves myelomeningocele, “a severe form of spina bifida where the spinal canal doesn’t fully close before birth, leading to spinal cord damage.”

According to the article, “So far, three babies have received the unique treatment, which is delivered while a fetus is still in the womb.”

DIAGNOSIS AND TREATMENT

Today, prenatal testing is routinely offered to pregnant women, but abortion is too often offered or recommended when prenatal testing shows a possible adverse diagnosis like spina bifida.

According to the Spina Bifida Association, the condition can often be diagnosed before birth:

“There are 3 tests, but, it is important to remember that no medical test is perfect and the results are not always 100 percent accurate. Spina Bifida can be detected in utero by one of the following tests: 

  1. A blood test during the 16th to 18th weeks of pregnancy. This is called the alpha-fetoprotein (AFP screening test). This test is higher in about 75–80 % of women who have a fetus with Spina Bifida.
  2. An ultrasound of the fetus. This is also called a sonogram and can show signs of Spina Bifida such as the open spine.
  3. A test where a small amount of the fluid from the womb is taken through a thin needle. This is called maternal amniocentesis and can be used to look at protein levels.”

Ironically, one of the big health institutions in my city that provides “Pregnancy termination for women choosing to terminate a pregnancy due to fetal abnormalities or maternal health conditions” also has a Fetal Care Center that uses prenatal surgery not only for spina bifida but also for other conditions such as amniotic band syndrome, twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome, airway/trachea obstruction and blocked urinary tract, etc.!

CONCLUSION

When I had my last child in 1985, I was offered but refused amniocentesis. In my case, it was offered because I had previously had Karen, my daughter with Down Syndrome and a severe heart defect.

I knew that both procedures carry a risk of miscarriage and that I would never abort a child because of a disability. I also knew that such procedures can only test for some of the thousands of known “birth defects” and I personally met families who were erroneously told that their child had a defect but were born healthy. I also knew how to find help if any of my children-born or unborn-had a possible health a problem.

Some people asked if I was brave or stupid. I told them that I was just well-informed after researching both amniocentesis and CVS (Chorionic villus sampling)

(Today, we have routine non-invasive prenatal screening blood tests called NIPTs but the Federal Food and Drug Administration issued an alert on April 19, 2022 “Genetic Non-Invasive Prenatal Screening Tests May Have False Results: FDA Safety Communication:

“While health care providers widely use NIPS tests, none have yet been authorized, cleared, or approved by the FDA. The accuracy and performance of NIPS tests have not been evaluated by the FDA and these tests can give false results, such as reporting a genetic abnormality when the fetus does not actually have one.” (Emphasis added))

But most importantly, I told them that my daughter Karen was a blessing who helped change many lives for the better during her tragically short life-especially mine.

After Karen died, I became a volunteer babysitter for many children with a range of disabilities and their parents also told me how they became better people because of their child with a disability.

Life must be our highest priority!

PLEASE READ BEFORE YOU AGREE TO BE AN ORGAN DONOR

Whether we are renewing our driver’s licenses, watching the TV news or just picking up a newspaper, it’s impossible to miss the campaign to persuade us to sign an organ donation card such as this one. We see story after story about how grieving relatives have been comforted by donating a loved one’s organs after a tragic death, and how grateful the people are whose lives have been changed by the “gift of life”.

But are ethical lines being crossed in the zeal to obtain organs to transplant?

While most people presume that organs can be removed and transplanted only after “all efforts to save your life have been exhausted” and brain death has been determined, that presumption is no longer necessarily true.

Now, organ donation can occur with a person who is in a coma and considered close to death but who does not meet the criteria for brain death. In those cases, a organ donor card or relatives who have agreed to withdraw a ventilator (a machine that supports or maintains breathing) and have the person’s organs removed for transplant if or when when the heartbeat stops. This was called DCD or donation after cardiac death until some doctors found that the stopped heart could be successfully restarted it in the patient receiving the transplant!

Now, that ethically questionable procedure is called donation after circulatory death (also DCD) since circulation stops when the heart stops.

If circulation does not stop within 60 minutes, the organs are deemed to be too damaged for transplant and the patient dies without donating organs.

IT GETS WORSE

Last month a September 29, 2022 article in Medpage titled “No Brain Death? No Problem. New Organ Transplant Protocol Stirs Debate-Is it ethical to pull the plug in patients who aren’t brain dead, then restart their hearts?” reported on a new procedure to get more organs:

“With little attention or debate, transplant surgeons across the country are experimenting with a kind of partial resurrection: They’re allowing terminal patients to die, then restarting their hearts while clamping off blood flow to their brains. The procedure allows the surgeons to inspect and remove organs from warm bodies with heartbeats.” (Emphasis added)

The article also said that this new procedure is being criticized by doctors like Dr. Wes Ely and the American College of Physicians that warned the procedure raises “profound ethical questions regarding determination of death, respect for patients, and the ethical obligation to do what is best.”

MY JOURNEY TO DISCOVER THE FACTS ABOUT BRAIN DEATH

Back in the early 1970s when I was a young intensive care unit nurse, no one questioned the innovation of brain death organ transplantation. We trusted the experts and the prevailing medical ethic of the utmost respect for every human life.

However, as the doctors diagnosed brain death in our unit and I cared for these patients until their organs were harvested, I started to ask questions. For example, doctors assured us that these patients would die anyway within two weeks even if the ventilator to support breathing was continued, but no studies were cited. I also asked if we were making a brain-injured patient worse by removing the ventilator for up to 10 minutes for the apnea test to see if he or she would breathe since we knew that brain cells start to die when breathing stops for more than a few minutes.

I was told that greater minds than mine had it all figured out so I shouldn’t worry.

It was awhile before I realized that these doctors did not have the answers themselves and that my questions were valid.

I also discovered that some mothers declared “brain dead” were able to gestate their babies for weeks or months to a successful delivery before their ventilators were removed and that there were cases of “brain dead” people like Jahi McMath living and maturing for years after a diagnosis of brain death or even recovering like Zack Dunlap

If the legal definition of brain death is truly “irreversible cessation of all functions of the entire brain, including the brain stem”, these cases would seem to be impossible.

PRESUMED CONSENT AND LAW

Another problem is “presumed consent” which is the assumption that everyone is willing to donate his/her organs unless there is evidence that they would not want to donate. Illinois narrowly avoided a “presumed consent” statute a few years ago where people who didn’t want to donate had to file an opt out document with the Secretary of State.

Some countries already have “presumed consent” laws, most recently in England that states:

“it will be considered that you agree to become an organ donor when you die, if:

  • you are over 18;
  • you have not opted out;
  • you are not in an excluded group

Even more horrifying, there have also been proposals to even link organ donation and assisted suicide as “a potential solution to the organ scarcity problem”. Countries like Belgium and the Netherlands already allow this.

CONCLUSION

Organ donation can truly be “the gift of life”, and innovations such as adult stem cells and the donation of a kidney or part of a liver by a living person generally pose no ethical problems and hold much promise to increasingly meet the needs of people with failing organs. I have a grandson whose life was saved by a stem cell transplant and another relative who has had 2 kidney transplants.

Personally, I have offered to be a living donor for friends and my family knows that I am willing to donate tissues like bone, corneas, skin, etc. that can be donated after natural death.

Everyone can make his or her own decision about organ donation but it is crucial that we all have the necessary information to make an informed decision..

What Will It Take? Part Two -Does Abortion Really Help Women?

In August 2019, I wrote a blog titled “Pro-abortion Desperation in Missouri” about the last Planned Parenthood abortion clinic in Missouri losing its license because of numerous health and safety violations but continued to operate only because of several temporary injunctions by a judge.

The clinic finally closed only after the Supreme Court’s June 2022 Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision returned abortion law to the states.

Unfortunately, the pro-abortion choice response to that decision has resulted in terrible turmoil and animosity.

Now the attacks on pro-life pregnancy centers and churches with few arrests and prosecution of peaceful pro-life demonstrators are continuing unabated.

To try to portray abortion as a positive empowerment for women, Planned Parenthood has tried the “Share Your Story” and “Shout Your Abortion— Normalizing abortion and elevating safe paths to access, regardless of legality” campaigns to increase abortion support and activism. (The National Association of Pro-life Nurses countered with “Shout out Your Adoption!“, pointing out that “Adoption is a wonderful act of love and one of the best alternatives to abortion.”)

Now Planned Parenthood has another strategy for increasing abortion support and activism originally published in MS Magazine on 4/12/2022 and titled “A Firsthand View of the Crisis Ahead for Abortion Rights—and What We Should Do About It”

The article states:

“Since it seems we can no longer rely on the courts to protect these rights, our only solution is to pass a new federal law that will protect abortion rights in all 50 states. The Senate’s recent failure to pass the Women’s Health Protection Act makes it clear that we will need a greater pro-choice majority than we have today to pass this new legislation.

This will not happen in one election cycle, and it will take a commitment of time, energy and resources beyond that which we have been expending to date. We have to get all the voters who support reproductive rights registered and encourage them to vote. We have to elect representatives at all levels of government who will protect our reproductive rights that are currently under attack. (Emphasis in original)

THE TRAUMA OF ABORTION

And as a nurse, I have seen the mental and/or physical trauma after abortion in both friends and patients.

For example, one friend felt she had to have an abortion because the doctor said her unborn baby had little or no brain, which may not have even been true according to the doctor I knew who read the ultrasound. That doctor was devastated to learn that an abortion was done.

Knowing that I was pro-life, my friend said she didn’t want to talk about the traumatic 28 hour induced abortion but, after 5 years, she called me and said she needed to know how the hospital disposed of the body. She also revealed that she secretly hung an ornament for that baby on the Christmas tree every year.

And I wrote a November 2016 blog “Why Talk About Abortion” about one of my elderly hospice patients who told me that she was afraid to die because of a secret abortion she had 60 years ago because she believed that abortion was an “unforgivable sin” and she would go to hell. She also felt her now swollen belly due to her terminal condition was God punishing her for the abortion.

My heart went out to this woman who was suffering so much, more emotionally than even physically.

We talked for a long time and in a later visit about God’s love and forgiveness. I told her about Project Rachel, a healing ministry for women (and even men) wounded by abortion. I gave her the phone number and offered to be with her to meet a counselor or priest, but she insisted that my talking with her was enough to help. I felt it wasn’t, but she seemed to achieve a level of peace and she even started smiling! 

Rose died comfortably and apparently in her sleep about a week later.

SOME RESOURCES TO HELP WOMEN WHO ARE CONSIDERING ABORTION OR OTHERS WHO ARE HURTING AFTER AN ABORTION

  1. Support After Abortion “aspires to shift the conversation to compassion and support for those impacted by abortion” (including men)
  2. Project Rachel for women and even including how to talk to a friend who has had an abortion
  3. Birthright An organization with many resources and help
  4.  American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists states it “Promotes Dignity for BOTH our Patients!”
  5. There are also organizations like Prenatal Partners for Life and Be Not Afraid that provide support, information, resources and encouragement for carrying to term with an adverse prenatal diagnosis.

6. CareNet helps find a crisis pregnancy center in your area

CONCLUSION

Serrin M. Foster of Feminists for Life in her 2018 National Review article Women Deserve Better than Abortion: The Ultimate Exploitation of Women” perhaps said it best:

 “The reality is that there is no such thing as a safe abortion. Few unborn human beings escape a violent death, but what is underreported is the mortality of healthy pregnant women killed during or as a result of abortion.

When we know how much a woman grieves from reproductive loss through miscarriage or stillbirth, who would choose abortion? According to the Guttmacher Institute, those who have abortions come primarily from the poorest among us (75 percent), women of color (61 percent), women pursuing post-secondary degrees that would lift them out of poverty (66 percent), and mothers who already have dependents (59 percent). Half of all abortions are performed on a woman who has already had one or more abortions, proving that abortion solves nothing. Abortion isn’t empowering, and it’s not something to celebrate. Abortion is a symptom of, not a solution to, the problems faced overwhelmingly by women who don’t have what they need and deserve. Abortion is a reflection that we have not met the needs of women. Women deserve better.”

And ALL of us deserve a better and more peaceful society!

What Will It Take?

I recently wrote a blog titled “The War Against Crisis Pregnancy Centers Escalates” about the attacks on crisis pregnancy centers after the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision returning abortion law to the individual states was outrageously leaked.

 Now that the final Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision  is public, the violence against crisis pregnancy centers and churches has continued with few if any arrests.

However, now even pro-life individuals have been targeted.

For example, an 84-year-old pro-life volunteer was shot on Sept. 20 while going door-to-door in her community to talk about a ballot measure concerning abortion in Michigan. Thankfully, she is expected to recover.

Even more disturbing and over the last weekend, was the news that the FBI raided the home of a pro-life advocate Mark Houck and arrested him in front of his 7 crying children for the alleged crime of “Assaulting a Reproductive Health Care Provider”.

According to the National Review, Mrs. Houck “described an incident in which her husband ‘shoved’ a pro-abortion man away from his 12-year-old son after the man entered ‘the son’s personal space’ and refused to stop hurling ‘crude… inappropriate and disgusting’ comments at the Houcks.” The man did not sustain any injuries but did try to sue Houck. The charges were later dismissed.

WHAT WILL IT TAKE TO RESOLVE THE NATIONAL TURMOIL SURROUNDING ABORTION?

I was a young intensive care unit nurse when the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision came down in 1973. Like most people I knew, I was surprised and shocked when abortion was legalized. However, I quickly found that my medical colleagues were split on the issue, and I was vehemently attacked for being against abortion. I was even asked what I would do if I was raped and pregnant. When I replied that I would not have an abortion and would probably release the baby for adoption, I was ridiculed. Our formerly cohesive unit began to fray.

But I was professionally offended by the pro-life argument that legalizing abortion would lead to the legalization of infanticide and euthanasia.  

It was one thing to deny the truth with an early and unobserved unborn baby, but it was quite another to imagine any doctor or nurse looking at a born human being and killing him or her.

But I was wrong.

As I wrote in my 2019 blog “Roe v. Wade’s Disastrous Impact on Medical Ethics”, personal and professional experiences opened my eyes to the truth.

I have seen the push for “choice” to expand to abortion for any reason up to birth, infanticide and medical discrimination against people with disabilities, including my own daughter who had Down Syndrome.

I wasn’t long until “choice” also became the heart of the “right to die” movement to include to include legalized assisted suicide and euthanasia, withdrawal of feedings from people with serious brain injuries whose “choice” was exercised by family members or doctors and even the voluntary stopping of eating and drinking (called VSED by the pro-death-choice group Compassion and Choices).

With VSED, Compassion & Choices maintains that:

“Many people struggle with the unrelieved suffering of a chronic or incurable and progressive disorder. Others may decide that they are simply “done” after eight or nine decades of a fully lived life. Free will and the ability to choose are cornerstones of maintaining one’s quality of life and dignity in their final days”.  (All emphasis added)

CONCLUSION

I have long preferred the term “respect life” to “anti-abortion” because obviously we should respect the lives of all people at any age or stage of development.

But this doesn’t mean anger or vilification of others.

Over the years I have written, spoken, debated, etc. people who do not agree with the respect life philosophy, but I never became angry.

I also found that listening to and not judging others-especially people in crisis-was crucially important.

For example and many years ago, I ran into an acquaintance I will call Diane and I congratulated her on her obvious pregnancy.

I was stunned when she replied, “Don’t congratulate me yet. I might not be pregnant.”

Diane, the mother of a 5-year-old boy, went on to explain that she was awaiting the results of an amniocentesis and said, “I know what you went through with your daughter but I can’t give up my life like that. If this (the baby) is Downs, it’s gone.”

I reassured her that the test would almost surely show that her baby was ok, but I added that if the results were not what she expected I would like her to call me. I promised that I would give her any help she needed throughout the pregnancy and that my husband and I or even another couple would be willing to adopt her baby. She was surprised, as I later found out, both by my reaction and the information about adoption.

Diane gave birth to a healthy baby girl a few months later and ran up to me to apologize for her comments, saying that she probably would not have had an abortion anyway. But I understood her terrible anxiety. Society itself seems to have a rather schizophrenic attitude towards children with disabilities. Special Olympics is considered inspirational but Down’s Syndrome is too often seen as a tragedy.

Whether it is abortion or legalized assisted suicide, we must be prepared to help desperate people either personally and/or referring them to a crisis pregnancy center or suicide hotline.

Every life deserves to be respected.

Good Healthcare Tips To Help the Elderly

My first volunteer work was feeding elderly patients in a local nursing home when I was 13. Although I was nervous at first, I came to love being with these elderly patients and especially hearing their stories.

After I graduated from nursing school in 1969, I took care of many elderly patients in ICU, oncology, kidney dialysis and home health/hospice as well as my own relatives and friends. I learned a lot from all these people about the special needs of older patients and have written about them in my blogs.

 In 2018, I wrote a blog titled “Don’t Write Off the Elderly”  about “Melissa” (not her real name), my friend who is also the mother of one of my best friends and who died recently at the age of 99 years, 9 months and 5 days.

Melissa had wonderful care from her family, caregivers and spiritual support but she also had some difficult situations with the healthcare system. Thankfully, these situations were resolved and Melissa died peacefully and comfortably in her own home, as she had hoped.

So I was delighted to see this wonderful article at ‘Medical Methuselahs’: Treating the Growing Population of Centenarians (medscape.com) from the website Medscape for healthcare professionals that can help not only doctors and nurses but also older people and their friends and families.

Although this article is mainly about people who reach 100, it has observations and tips that can help other older people over 65. And as an older person myself, I really appreciate the positive outlook in this article.

Although the article is longer than most other Medscape articles, it is well worth reading for anyone who is older or who has elderly friends and/or relatives.

Here are some excerpts and all emphasis is mine:

1.“Priya Goel, MD is a New York doctor who works for a national home healthcare company that primarily serves people older than 65. Dr. Goel has observed that although some of the ultra-aged live

in nursing homes, many continue to live independently. They require both routine and acute medical care.

Dr. Goel urges her colleagues not to stereotype patients on the basis of age, saying that:

“You have to consider their functional and cognitive abilities, their ability to understand disease processes and make decisions for themselves… Age is just one factor in the grand scheme of things.” Dr. Goel visits her patients aged 65 and up in their homes to provide herself with insights into how well they’re doing, including the safety of their environments and the depth of their social networks.

2. Geriatrician Thomas Perls, MD says “”People can age so very differently from one another” and agrees that “that healthcare providers and the lay public should not make assumptions on the basis of age alone as to how a person is doing. People can age so very differently from one another,” he said and that:

“Up to about age 90, the vast majority of those differences are determined by our health behaviors, such as smoking, alcohol use, exercise, sleep, the effect of our diets on weight, and access to good healthcare, including regular screening for problems such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and cancer. “People who are able to do everything right generally add healthy years to their lives, while those who do not have shorter life expectancies and longer periods of chronic diseases,” Perls said.

“Paying diligent attention to these behaviors over the long run can have a huge payoff” and

“Centenarians are the antithesis of the misguided belief that the older you get, the sicker you get. Quite the opposite occurs. For Perls, “the older you get, the healthier you’ve been.

3. “We have to be very cognizant of what we call a typical presentation of disease or illness and that a very subtle change in an older adult can signal a serious infection or illness,” Baker said. “If your patient has a high fever, that is a potential problem.”

The average temperature of an older adult is lower than the accepted 98.6° F, and their body’s response to an infection is slow to exhibit an increase in temperature, Baker said. “When treating centenarians, clinicians must be cognizant of other subtle signs of infection, such as decreased appetite or change in mentation,” she cautioned.

A decline in appetite or insomnia may be a subtle sign that these patients need to be evaluated, she added.”

4. Environmental changes, such as moving a patient to a new room in a hospital setting, can trigger an acute mental status change, such as delirium, she added. Helping older patients feel in control as much as possible is important.

“You want to make sure you’re orienting them to the time of day. Make sure they get up at the same time, go to bed at the same time, have clocks and calendars present ― just making sure that they feel like they’re still in control of their body and their day,” she said.”

6. And, in a very important observation: 
“Dr. Flomenbaum, a pioneer in geriatric emergency medicine, says physicians need to be aware that centenarians and other very old patients don’t present the same way as younger adults.

He began to notice more than 20 years ago that every night, patients would turn up in his ED who were in their late 90s into their 100s. Some would come in with what their children identified as sudden-onset dementia ― they didn’t know their own names and couldn’t identify their kids. They didn’t know the time or day. Flomenbaum said the children often asked whether their parents should enter a nursing home.

 “And I’d say, ‘Not so fast. Well, let’s take a look at this.’ You don’t develop that kind of dementia overnight. It usually takes a while,” he said.”
 Dr. Flomenbaum also said: 
“The decline in hearing and vision can lead to a misdiagnosis of cognitive impairment because the patients are not able to hear what you’re asking them. “It’s really important that the person can hear you ― whether you use an amplifying device or they have hearing aids, that’s critical,” he said. “You just have to be a good doctor.” 

Often the physical toll of aging exacerbates social difficulties. Poor hearing, for example, can accelerate cognitive impairment and cause people to interact less often, and less meaningfully, with their environment. For some, wearing hearing aids seems demeaning ― until they hear what they’ve been missing.
 I get them to wear their hearing aids and, lo and behold, they’re a whole new person because they’re now able to take in their environment and interact with others,” Perls said.” 

Dr. Flomenbaum said alcohol abuse and drug reactions can cause delirium, which, unlike dementia, is potentially reversible. Yet many physicians cannot reliably differentiate between dementia and delirium, he added.”

7. The geriatric specialists talk about the lessons they’ve learned and the gratification they get from caring for centenarians.

“I have come to realize the importance of family, of having a close circle, whether that’s through friends or neighbors,” Goel said. “This work is very rewarding because, if it wasn’t for homebound organizations, how would these people get care or get access to care?”

For Baker, a joy of the job is hearing centenarians share their life stories.

CONCLUSION

In helping to care for many elderly people over many decades, I can attest to the wisdom and hope of these experts.

Aging itself is not a terminal disease and it can be a wonderful time to spend more time with loved ones and reflect on how much we have learned and can still enjoy in every stage of life!

CDC OVERHAULS IT’S COVID 19 GUIDELINES

This month the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced significant changes in its Covid 19 guidance in a press release. Author Geta Massetti, PhD, MPH, MMWR explained that:

“We’re in a stronger place today as a nation, with more tools—like vaccination, boosters, and treatments—to protect ourselves, and our communities, from severe illness from COVID-19. We also have a better understanding of how to protect people from being exposed to the virus, like wearing high-quality masks, testing, and improved ventilation.  This guidance acknowledges that the pandemic is not over, but also helps us move to a point where COVID-19 no longer severely disrupts our daily lives.”(Emphasis added)

Among the biggest changes are:

“The CDC’s COVID-19 prevention guidance will no longer differentiate by whether people are up-to-date on their vaccinations.

Testing to screen for COVID-19 will no longer be recommended in most places for people who do not have COVID symptoms

The CDC says people who have tested positive for COVID-19 can stop wearing masks if their symptoms have improved and they test negative twice in a row — initially on the sixth day after their infection began, and then again on the eighth day.

And the CDC says that “to limit social and economic impacts, quarantine of exposed persons is no longer recommended, regardless of vaccination status.” 

And there are also new changes to guidance for schools, including:

“-Removed the recommendation to cohort

-Changed recommendation to conduct screening testing to focus on high-risk activities during high COVID-19 Community Level or in response to an outbreak

-Removed the recommendation to quarantine, except in high-risk congregate settings

-Removed information about Test to Stay

-Added detailed information on when to wear a mask, managing cases and exposures, and responding to outbreaks”

Also and as of June 12, 2002, “CDC will no longer require air passengers traveling from a foreign country to the United States to show a negative COVID-19 viral test or documentation of recovery from COVID-19 before they board their flight” but must be “fully vaccinated”.

And, according to CBS News, “U.S. agents will begin to offer COVID-19 vaccines to migrants in Customs and Border Protection (CBP) custody who are processed under regular immigration procedures and can’t show proof of vaccination.” (Emphasis added)

CONCLUSION

This sounds like progress but there is still controversy and court cases about Covid 19 vaccination mandates and exemptions. Stay tuned for further developments.

The War Against Crisis Pregnancy Centers Escalates

When the Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organization draft decision by the US Supreme Court to return abortion law to the individual states was outrageously leaked, I wrote about the pro-abortion violence perpetrated on crisis pregnancy centers and the threats against Supreme Court judges.

Now, Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts is not only strongly protesting the final ruling but also states:

“With Roe gone, it’s more important than ever to crack down on so-called ‘crisis pregnancy centers’ that mislead and deceive patients seeking abortion care,” said Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren, promoting her bill. “We need to crack down on the deceptive practices these centers use to prevent people from getting abortion care, and I’ve got a bill to do just that,”

Her bill titled the “Stop Anti-Abortion Disinformation Act” or “SAD Act” directs the Federal Trade Commission to “promulgate rules to prohibit a person from advertising with the use of misleading statements related to the provision of abortion service.” It would also allow charities to be fined $100,000 or “50 percent of the revenues earned by the ultimate parent entity” for disinformation, although the legislation itself does not define the prohibited speech.

Joining Senator Warren on the bill are Senators Hirono, Schatz, Booker, Smith, Klobuchar, Sanders, Murray, Merkley, Blumenthal, Feinstein, Wyden, Gillibrand, Markey, Warner and Markey.

Speaking with reporters in July, Senator Warren stated that:

“In Massachusetts right now, those crisis pregnancy centers that are there to fool people who are looking for pregnancy termination help outnumber true abortion clinics by 3 to 1. We need to shut them down here in Massachusetts, and we need to shut them down all around the country. You should not be able to torture a pregnant person like that” (All emphasis added)

This pronouncement was met with derision, even from some reporters.

A CRISIS PREGNANCY DIRECTOR RESPONDS

Heidi Matzke, who heads a Crisis Pregnancy Center in Sacramento, California was eloquent in describing the violence her center has faced as well as responding to Senator Warren’s point that centers like hers must be shut down:

We have had to stop operations of our mobile clinic. We’ve had to hire 24-hour onsite security. We’ve had to add cameras. We’ve had to arm our staff with pepper spray,” she said, adding last week a man with a machete showed up and was stopped before he could inflict any harm or damage.”

She also called Ms. Warren statements “horrific”:

“Pregnancy centers give away $266 million of free medical services and resources to communities all over this incredible country. And her words are just incredibly hurtful.” (Emphasis added)

She also said her center provides fully licensed OB/GYN care with medical professionals and that “most of the women working at her clinic have had an abortion before and many believe their lives would be ‘so much different’ if they had gone to a pregnancy center.”

CONCLUSION

Personally and as a nurse, I have had experience with women considering abortion as well as women (and men) who relate how they were damaged by an abortion. They need compassion and real help.

Crisis pregnancy centers are a wonderful resource and even Sen. Warren acknowledges that crisis pregnancy centers outnumber well-funded abortion clinics by 3 to 1. There’s a lesson in that.

But most importantly, I wish that all of us would realize that abortion is a tragic loss of a life regardless of the circumstances, not a political cause to celebrate!

Pain, Choice, and Canada’s now “most permissive euthanasia legislation in the world”

In his excellent July 10, 2022 blog, Alex Schadenberg, chair of the International Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, reveals that now “Canada’s medical assistance in dying (Maid) law is the most permissive euthanasia legislation in the world”.

He says “Canada’s MAiD law currently allows suicide facilitation for persons with disabilities and is on track to expand in March 2023 to those living with mental illness. “ (Emphasis added)

How did assisted suicide/euthanasia laws get so far and so fast down the proverbial “slippery slope”?

In my December, 2016 blog “Pain and ‘Choice’”,  I wrote about how I saw the warning signs when I was a new nurse in 1969.

Here is my blog:

PAIN AND “CHOICE”

December 15, 2016 nancyvalko 

It was 1969 and I was fresh out of nursing school when I was assigned to a patient I will call “Jenny” who was thirty-two years old and imminently dying of cancer. She was curled up in her bed, sobbing in pain and even moaned “just kill me.” The small dose of Demerol I injected into her almost non-existent buttocks every four hours “as needed” was not helping. I reassured Jenny that I was immediately calling the doctor and we would get her more comfortable.

However, I was shocked when the doctor said no to increasing or changing her medication. He said that he didn’t want her to get addicted! I told him exactly what Jenny said and also that she was obviously very close to death so addiction would not be a problem. The doctor repeated his no and hung up on me.

I went to my head nurse and told her what happened, but she told me I had to follow the doctor’s order. Eventually, I went up the chain of command to the assistant director of nursing and finally the Chief of the Medical Staff. The verdict came down and I was threatened with immediate termination if I gave the next dose of Demerol even a few minutes early.

I refused to abandon Jenny so for the next two days before she died, I spent my time after my shift sitting with her for hours until she fell asleep. I gave her whatever food or drink she wanted. I stroked her back, held her hand and told stories and jokes. I asked her about her life. I did everything I could think of to distract her from her pain and make her feel better. It seemed to help, although not enough for me. I cried for Jenny all the way home.

And I was angry. I resolved that I would never watch a patient needlessly suffer like that again.

So, I educated myself by reading everything I could about pain medicine and side effects. I also pestered doctors who were great at pain control to teach me about the management, precautions, and rationale of effective pain management. I used that knowledge to advocate and help manage my patients’ pain as well as educating others.

I was delighted to see pain management become a major priority in healthcare and even called “the fifth vital sign” to be evaluated on every patient. I saw new developments like nerve blocks, new drugs, and regimens to control pain and other techniques evolve as well as other measures to control symptoms like nausea, breathlessness, and anxiety. Now we also have nutritional, psychological, and other support for people with terminal illnesses and their families.

Best of all was that I never again saw another patient suffer like Jenny despite my working in areas such as ICU, oncology (cancer) and hospice.

TWENTY-FOUR YEARS LATER

When my oldest daughter was 14, she attended a public high school where the science teacher unexpectedly started praising the infamous Dr. Jack Kevorkian and his public campaign for legalized assisted suicide and euthanasia.  Kevorkian’s first reported victim was Janet Adkins, a 54 year old woman with Alzheimer’s in no reported physical pain who was hooked up to a  “death machine” in the back of a rusty van. Mrs. Adkins was just the first of as many as 130 Kevorkian victims, many if not most of whom were later found to have no terminal illness. Kevorkian escaped prosecution-even after he harvested a victim’s organs and offered them for transplant-until the TV show 60 Minutes aired Kevorkian’s videotape showing him giving a lethal injection to a man with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease). Shockingly, Kevorkian served only 8 years in prison before he was paroled and eventually became a media celebrity peddling assisted suicide and euthanasia.

My daughter, who never before showed any interest in my speaking and writing on the topic of assisted suicide, now stood up and peppered her teacher with facts about Kevorkian. The teacher asked her where she learned her information and she answered, “From my mom who is a cancer nurse”.

Sarcastically, he responded “So your mother wants to watch people suffer?” My daughter responded “No, my mother just refuses to kill her patients!” End of discussion.

CONCLUSION

But not the end of the story. Tragically, we now have legalized assisted suicide in several states and serious efforts  to expand it to include people without physical pain but with conditions like Alzheimer’smental illness or other psychological distress as well as even children.

As Wesley Smith recently and astutely observed:

 “Moreover, the statistics from Oregon and elsewhere show that very few people commit assisted suicide due to physical suffering. Rather, the issues are predominately existential, such as fears of being a burden or losing dignity

The public is being duped by groups like Compassion and Choices that campaign for legalized assisted suicide on the alleged basis of strict criteria for mentally competent, terminally ill adults in unbearable physical pain to freely choose physician-assisted suicide with (unenforceable) “safeguards”.

The emerging situation throughout the world is more like Kevorkian’s dream of unfettered and universal access to medical termination of the lives of “expendable” people. How much easier is that when people with expensive mental health problems, serious illnesses or disabilities can be encouraged to “choose” to be killed?

A Crisis Pregnancy Close to Home

A few days ago, I read an article from one of the medical news sites I subscribe to titled Would You Like to Keep This Pregnancy?’ I Asked My 13-Year-Old PatientHaving a choice can help end cycles of poverty among marginalized teen patients”.

Of course, the doctor/author was pro-abortion and the article was horrifying to me. I thought how differently a pro-life healthcare provider would handle the situation and remembered a news article I wrote in March, 1998 for the National Catholic Register newspaper.

Here is the news article:

A Crisis Pregnancy Close to Home

When it’s your own unmarried teenage daughter facing a staggering ‘choice,’ are you still pro-life?

“Mom, I’m pregnant.” When these words are uttered by your unmarried teenage daughter, it’s a heart-stopping moment for any parent. When the parent is a committed pro-lifer, the shock is often overlaid with stunned disbelief, shame, and guilt. “Hasn’t she been listening? This isn’t supposed to happen to my daughter!” and “How did I fail her?” are common first reactions. I know.

This Christmas, my 18-year-old daughter quietly told me that two at-home pregnancy tests came out positive.

Marie, named after the Blessed Mother, had long been my “worry child.” A brittle crust of teen rebellion had long covered a soft, sensitive heart, leading to a constant round of minor and not-so-minor infractions and arguments. Lately, though, her life seemed to be coming together. A“B” average at college and a job she loved lulled me into a sense that the worst was over. She confided that she thought she was falling in love and we talked about the pressures and temptations such strong emotions bring. Street-wise and assertive, I thought she was “safe.” But, as countless other parents have also discovered, my child lives in a world that too often considers virginity a disability and chastity an old-fashioned ideal.

The one bright spot in that night of tears and fears was that abortion was never considered an option by Marie: “Mom, I couldn’t kill my baby!” Although I was heartbroken by the circumstances of this pregnancy, I couldn’t help but feel proud of her for having the courage and common sense to reject the abortion “option.”

Surprisingly, she said all her friends were against her having an abortion and a few who had been leaning “pro-choice” were now rethinking their position. Two of her friends actually threatened to physically stop her from having an abortion even before she told them that she would never abort.

We didn’t resolve everything that first night or even later. Adoption or keeping the baby is still the big question and one that will involve a lot of prayer, thought, and discussion. It hasn’t been easy, but facing this crisis together has taught both of us so much already. What the future holds for Marie and her baby is uncertain but, with prayer and love, it is still a future bright with promise for both of them.

A Common Stereotype

A January 1998 New York Times article, “Many Women Make No Link Between Abortion and Politics,” perpetuates a common stereotype-the pro-lifer who chooses abortion when a crisis pregnancy hits home. Writer Tamar Lewin states, “Almost every abortion-clinic counselor can reel off stories of patients who say that they have always opposed abortion but that their own situation is different, or men who bring their pregnant wives or teenage daughters to the very same clinics that they have long spoken out against.”

But conversations with people active in the pro-life movement reveal a very different picture. Not surprisingly, pro-life people willing to help total strangers with a crisis pregnancy are also ready to help and support their own sons and daughters facing the same crisis.

“You think it’s the blackest day in your life when your daughter tells you she’s pregnant,” Lucy R., long active in the pro-life movement, says. A smile lights her voice. “But it’s really the beginning of a great blessing. That little boy (now six years old) is the light of our lives.” She credits prayer and pro-life principles for that happy ending.

Janet B. was a young professional when her sister told her that she had had an abortion without their parents’ knowledge because although their mother and father were strongly pro-life, the sister was sure they “just couldn’t take it (an unwed pregnancy).”

When Janet herself became pregnant out of wedlock, her parents became her biggest supporters. “We became so much closer,” she says. “My sister was wrong.” Interviews with pro-life supporters around the country reveal that this kind of family support during a crisis pregnancy appears to be the norm, not the exception.

Marcia Buterin RN, founder of Missouri Nurses for Life and active in the pro-life movement for 25 years, has had broad experience with pro-life parents whose daughters or sons have had crisis pregnancies. “It almost seems like an epidemic sometimes,” she says. “Pro-lifers are not immune from what is happening in the rest of society.”

But, she says, the reaction of the parents she has known has been invariably positive despite the heartache at discovering a son or daughter has been sexually active. She also says that, in the vast majority of cases, the young women keep their babies rather than releasing them for adoption. This echoes statistics which show that more than 90% of unmarried mothers keep their babies, almost the opposite situation of a generation ago when most of these mothers chose adoption. Thus, pro-lifers are not only supporting their daughters and sons during their pregnancies but also are usually involved in helping to raise their grandchildren.

Waning Support for Abortion

Not only do pro-lifers appear to routinely reject abortion for their unmarried children, society seems to be slowly starting to change its attitude toward abortion and the unmarried. According to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll, not only has support for abortion-on-demand eroded by an estimated 8% since 1989, but public support for abortion when pregnancy threatens to interrupt a woman’s career or education has also dropped 14% and 8% respectively.

A clear majority of the people polled did not feel these circumstances justified abortion. Undermining a basic abortion rights tenet that familiarity with abortion increases public acceptance, the same poll showed that “personal experience” was twice as likely to be given as a reason for becoming less favorable towards abortion rather than more supportive of abortion.

At the same time, a new wave of pro-life sentiment appears to be rising in a most unexpected place-the young people who have grown up under the shadow of Roe. The Times/CBS News poll showed even less support for abortion on demand among 18-29 year olds (29%) than among the general public (32%). The Alan Guttmacher Institute, the research arm of Planned Parenthood, has noted that “in recent years, fewer pregnant teens have chosen to have an abortion.” Even the media is beginning to notice. In a Jan. 21 New York Times article “A New Generation Rising Against Abortion,” writer Laurie Goodstein interviewed an eclectic group of young people attending a Rock for Life concert and found thoughtful and strong pro-life support even among those sporting tattoos and punk-style clothing.

Some explained that they began considering the value of life after losing friends to suicide, drug overdoses, and automobile accidents.

Goodstein also noted that many of the concert-goers she interviewed said that they arrived at a “right to life” position on their own and that, to be consistent, they also opposed the death penalty and assisted suicide and supported abstinence.

Countering Rock for Choice and other groups which help raise money for abortion rights groups, Rock for Life is a relatively recent phenomenon which reaches young people through the potent medium of music. Concert organizer Bryan Kemper told Goodstein that 15 concerts have already been staged and that there have been 110 bands “willing to perform for gas money.” Rock for Life is not the only sign that the pro-life movement is connecting with a new generation. Teens for Life, started in 1985, is a national organization run by young people encouraging teens to speak up for life and get involved in community activities. It has chapters throughout the country and continues to grow in numbers.

Another positive sign is the increasing number of pro-life groups springing up on college campuses. And not just on religiously-affiliated college campuses. MIT, Princeton, and the University of Texas are among colleges which not only have pro-life groups but also have websites on the Internet.

What Helps, What Hurts

But trends and statistics do not meet the needs of the individual young woman and her family suddenly facing a crisis pregnancy. The first reactions of parents and others to the news is extremely important to the woman and can even make the life-or-death difference for the unborn baby. When the first reaction is anger or a stern lecture about premarital sex, the young woman can feel abandoned and, in her despair, decide that eliminating the baby will make everyone feel better.

Parents and friends of young men and women coping with an unwed pregnancy are often unsure of what to say or how to handle the situation. One newer resource developed to help with this problem is a video and pamphlet called First Words: Can Our First Reaction to an Unplanned Pregnancy Save a Child’s Life? produced by American Life League.

The video tells the stories of four young women who faced an unwed pregnancy and encountered a range of reactions from friends and family. In their own words, these young women share how these reactions influenced their decisions about whether or not to abort their babies. The pamphlet is written by Cathy Brown who candidly tells her own story and offers helpful advice to parents and others.

But deciding against abortion is only the first step in a crisis pregnancy. The decision about whether to keep the baby or release him/her for adoption is often the most agonizing question for a young woman. Questions about insurance coverage and prenatal care, maintaining or losing a relationship with the father, the reactions of other children in the family, etc. are some of the practical and immediate concerns. Birthright and other pro-life pregnancy counseling centers can be a big help to families struggling with a crisis pregnancy.

Members of the family’s church can also help provide much needed spiritual and emotional support as well as involving the community in the nurturing of a new life.

For parents, especially pro-life parents, embarrassment and feelings of failure are common and understandable. It’s hard to put aside such feelings and concentrate on the feelings and needs of a son or daughter. But, as Donna B., a long-time pro-life activist and herself the mother of a pregnant teen, says, “Abortion is the real failure. It’s OK to be proud when your daughter chooses life.”

Nancy Valko writes from St. Louis, Mo.