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In 1798 Benjamin Franklin had it right when he penned a letter stating: “in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” The problem is — Americans want nothing to do with either. ¶ “Americans are not used to nor are they comfortable with the process of death,” said Roy Elam, M.D., associate professor of Medicine and medical director of the Center for Integrative Health. ¶ Elam said that many cultures approach death as part of the natural cycle of life, while in the United States there is a tendency to tuck it away on a shelf. ¶ “We try to assume that death doesn’t exist. We deny that it can happen to us. Of course it happens to every one of us.”

The science
For something as certain as death there is no way to pinpoint when someone is going to die, but there are indicators or stages of death — dying, active and imminent.

  • Dying patients are those who have a limited life expectancy or who recently learned of their illness.
  • Actively dying patients will exhibit physiological changes. Sleeping and eating patterns increase, while activity regimes decrease. These patients have days to weeks to live.
  • Imminently dying patients show clear signs of end of life. A patient has cold and clammy hands, their legs are bluish, red in color or mottled from the lack of blood flow and their breathing patterns are slow and shallow (agonal). These are indicators that a person will die in the next hour.  continued>>

 

WRITTEN BY JESSICA PASLEY
ILLUSTRATION BY LEON ZERNITSKY
   
     
   

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