"Am I Going To Die Today?"

When doctors and healthcare professionals place a number on how long someone has to live, they are doing that person a disservice.  

We have the right to be told about our disease, its progression, and the options of care and their expected outcomes. We need to know what the probability of our being cured is vs. the disease just controlled. If controlled, what does that mean? What kind of quality (physical and mental activity) will we have?

We also have the right to be told if we can’t be fixed, if our disease has progressed to the point it is not fixable. This knowledge gives us the opportunity to live and die in a manner of our own choosing, to address end of life issues, to put our house in order.

About the “not fixable” part; no one can be so specific as to say exactly how long someone has to live—with or without treatment. There are too many personal variables. When a number is given (6 months, a year) patients and their families end up carrying that number with them over the course of their illness. From that point forward the specific number will become a guide to how life unfolds.

Why do I say this? I’ll tell you a personal story. Even though it is personal, many people will have a similar story to tell if they think about it. 

My mother was diagnosed with cancer of the lung: it was not fixable. The doctor told her if she didn’t have treatment, which she declined, she would be dead in six months. His bedside manners were clearly lacking.  

When the sixth month arrived, she was sure she was going to die —during the ENTIRE month. “The doctor said six months, it’s been six months, I am going to die.”

At the end of the sixth month she agreed that maybe he was wrong. She lived 18 months after diagnosis. BUT think of the needless emotional turmoil, and yes, emotional fear that the doctor’s statement created.

Because people don’t have accurate role models on what it is like to die they think they are going to be alive one minute and dead the next. They don’t know there is a process so they often think that at the six month or year point mentioned they will suddenly die.

Imagine the fear of waking up every morning and wondering if you are going to die that day. When a number is put on how long life will be, that question is ever present.

When I think that is happening to a person with a life threatening illness, I respond, “If you can ask yourself, ‘Am I going to die today,’ then you most probably are not. The day that you die, you won’t ask and you won’t care.” Think of the fear that this simple statement reduces.

Something More...  "Am I Going To Die Today?"

We don't talk about death or the dying process very much, which does us a disservice. Conversations are missed. Grief is more complicated. Regrets pop up. When we know what to expect, what we can do, and where we can get support, the experience can be more sacred. 

New Rules For End of Life Care, DVD Kit is a my 25 minute, multi-award-winning film that addresses not only the behavior changes as they pertain to food, sleep, and withdrawal, but also pain management and the use of narcotics, addiction, and overdosing. Many begin watching with shoulders high and finish the film feeling relaxed and better for the education. 


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Miriam Schwarz

In my case, we were not aware that my husband had just days to live, and as a consequence 2 of my 4 adult children were unable to be with him when he died. I would have appreciated someone telling us that he was dying.
BK Books replied:
Miriam, I’m sorry you did not receive the support that would have helped you understand death was near. There is a difference between putting an exact number on approaching death and saying death near. You might have your children that were not at his bedside write him a letter, Put what they would have said had they been with him and whatever else is in their hearts down on paper. Burn the letter and scatter the ashes to the wind. You and your children that were with him might write a letter also. Blessings to you and your family. Barbara


Barbara — Forgive me for writing this with a sad smile on my face. When I was 26 years old, I suffered a TIA as a result of an AVM lodged between the two hemispheres of my brain. Of course, medical technology was not then what it is now. But still - when the doctors told me I had 18 months to live, my brand new husband and I were pretty shaken. On the day of the 18-month mark, we sat on the living room sofa, holding hands, and looking upward. Like the ceiling was going to fall in! And here it is, all those years later. I’m now 72 years old! So … yes … when medical personnel put a number on a person’s life, it has long-reaching effects. Bless you, Barbara, for the work you do.
BK Books replied:
Hi Lynda, Thank you for sharing your story. It will give hope to others who have been given specific amounts of time. Blessings! Barbara

Toni Reitter

Unfortunately due to insurance/medicare stepping in to mess things up, doctors have to pretend to know someone is 6 months from dying when requesting hospice services. It’s frustrating because, like you mention, people hold onto that and the families get angry that the process is taking longer, and the one at end of life starts freaking out because things didn’t go like the doctor said. sigh
BK Books replied:
Hi Toni, Yes, medicare requires a six month prognosis BUT the doctor can word his recommendation for hospice without being specific. Can say something like" Medicare requires us to say you have a six month prognosis BUT we really can’t be that specific. You have a life threatening illness that we can’t fix but we really can’t put a number on how long you will live. You have been given precious time. Hospice can help you with that time." or something like that. Blessings! Barbara

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