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A Stanford nurse shares her experience in talking to her aging mother about end-of-life decisions

A Stanford nurse shares her experience in talking to her aging mother about end-of-life decisions

In this video, Stanford ICU nurse Laura Heldebrant recounts the story of her mother being diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis and the challenges she faced discussing end-of-life care with her mother. Heldebrant credits palliative care specialists with helping create an environment where her mother felt comfortable expressing how she wanted to live out her remaining days.

The video is part of a series titled “Can We Talk?” produced by VJ Periyakoil, MD, director of palliative care education and training at Stanford. The video series is supported by a grant from the National Institutes of Health.

Periyakoil hopes the videos encourage people to engage their loved ones in conversations about their end-of-life wishes because delaying, or neglecting to have, such discussions can prolong aging patients’ suffering:

The topic is intrinsically a sensitive one and it is hard to think about a time when our beloved parents will be no more. Also, despite the fact that death is a certainty for all of us, the eternal optimist in each of us prefers to think that we have lots of time before we get to that point. As a result, these crucial end-of-life conversations which should ideally occur in a non-crisis time in the comfort of our homes unfortunately happen during a time of medical crisis in the chaos of the hospital. When we are in crisis mode, we tend to “go with the medical flow” and the default is always heavily slanted towards advanced medical technology.

While advances in biomedical technology are indeed a boon for mankind, there comes a point in everyone’s life when the treatment becomes more burdensome than the disease itself. At that point, all the medicines and technology in the world will be ineffective in prolonging life and will only result in prolonging the dying process. Furthermore, in addition to escalating the costs, these ineffective attempts also erode the patient’s quality of life and their dignity. Much of this can be prevented by finding the time and the courage to listen to our aging parents and other loved ones when they express their end of life wishes. To me, the act of active listening is an act of love.

Previously: Stanford physician discusses rapid growth of palliative medicine and legislation to meet demandsHelping caregivers practice palliative care and Examining the generational gap between physicians and patients in hospice and palliative care

6 Responses to “ A Stanford nurse shares her experience in talking to her aging mother about end-of-life decisions ”

  1. Terry Sandman RN-BC CHPN Says:

    I was so moved by this story and the courage it took to share her experience but also the wisdom of the Palliative Care Team to video and share and teash others the steps to having the difficult conversations. thanks for the example

  2. Meg Randle Says:

    In Utah, within Intermountain Healthcare, Advance Care Planning and pt centered goal setting is being given lots of support at many levels including having the dialogue in the community with primary care providers, in the hospital obtaining palliative care consults and casemanagers/socials getting them to be scanned into the electronic medical record. Education and opportunity like this video reminds us in healthcare that we all need supportive conversations for ourselves and families to record their wishes. Grateful that you recorded this for sharing.

  3. anne butts Says:

    Laura- what an awesome experience, and i applaude you for sharing your story.. I am a retired surgical nurse, who came back to Hospice and Palliative care, and your story is and will be very meaningful for sharing with my fellow hospital (icu and all) nurses and for our families making the hard decisions you had to face. THANKS SO MUCH!!!

  4. Cindy Nelson APN Says:

    Thank you for sharing your experience with us. I work in palliative care and see on a regular basis the difficulty family members have with accepting there are different manners in which to die. In this case your mother was very strong and aware of her wishes. I know that your personal experience will enhance your professional ability to interact effectively with families in the same situation. Bless you.

  5. Grand Roundup: Top posts for the week of Aug. 26 | Scope Blog Says:

    […] A Stanford nurse shares her experience in talking to her aging mother about end-of-life decisions: In this touching video, Stanford ICU nurse Laura Heldebrant talks about how palliative care specialists helped her in facilitating a conversation with her ailing mother about her end-of-life wishes. […]

  6. rose ullberg Says:

    Thank you for helping realize how selfish I was being by not accepting my mom’s decision and trying to spend quality time with her.


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