Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Time to declare it dead.

As I have started to think about our upcoming trip to Uganda, several things have come to mind.  One of those things is a list of things that are different in Uganda than Oklahoma.  The list is quite lengthy, but one of the hardest things to wrap our brains around is being up close to death and dying.  When we were in Uganda in 2012, we were exposed to people who were quite ill.  Many times those people got well, like Pastor Paul, but some didn’t, like Joseph of Mytiana.  Now I have much experience with death and dying through my work in the ER, but for the rest of our family this was uncharted territory.  I have mentioned in a previous blog, I literally hate to have to tell a family that one of their loved ones has passed away.  I have been told by several nurses, pastors and families that I am good at communicating a death to a family.  Of all of the things that I would like to be good at, I am not sure that I want to be good at such a conversation.  Unfortunately, this conversation, and what to say to the family is not covered in medical school.  Because of this lack of teaching, many doctors don’t know what to do or how to say what needs to be said.  When I have exposure to medical students in the ER, I try to find time to pull them aside and teach them this “dying art”. 


Recently, while working with a student in Duncan’s ER, a lady, younger than I am, passed away.  I used that unfortunate situation to teach the medical student what one older doctor had taught me many years ago.  As the medical student was taking everything in, I took out a piece of paper and wrote down the lesson about this dreadful interaction with a patient family.  This seems like a strange place to take a blog, but this is what I told the whipper snapper:


1.)    Before you go talk to the family, make sure that you KNOW THE PATIENT’S NAME.  This seems obvious but it is quite uncomfortable if you go to talk to a family and say “hello, are you the family of ……..the dead guy”?

2.)    Ask the family for any information about what they know about what happened prior to the patient coming to the hospital.  Any information that can be helpful must be gathered now, as when the family knows the loved one is dead, they won’t be thinking clearly.

3.)    Tell the family what you know and what has been done.  Explain everything from when the ambulance picked up the patient through the time that they were in the ER.  Include any information that you need the family to hear.  After they hear that their loved one is dead, they shut out any more information.

4.)    Say in very clear terms, borderline bluntly, that the person is “dead”.  You can’t dance around it, or try to soften it up, because if you do, the family will likely have some confusion.  You can’t say that the patient “passed on” or “slipped away” or “we lost him”.  I usually say that “I declared him dead at (some specific time)”.


Again, I know that this is a morbid topic for a blog, but as I continued to think about our upcoming trip to Uganda, I thought through some things in my life that I needed to “declare dead at this specific time”!  Things like need for control, lack of faith, or my pride .  Yours could be jealousy, unforgiveness or a critical nature.


I think that to get rid of something that needs to die in our walk with Christ we need to follow a similar algorithm as the one I use when talking to grieving families.

1.)    You have to call the thing that needs to die by its name.  Let there be no confusion.

2.)    Consult with God, family and close friends to gather information.

3.)    Discuss with God and tell him what you know and what you plan to do.

4.)    Specifically declare that thing “dead”, accept God's forgiveness and commit to not pick it up again.


1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness”.   Name it, declare it dead, and He will purify you!

Just 5 weeks until we return to Uganda!  We are excited to reunite with our friends there and serve our God in the birth place of the Nile.


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