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end-of-life | Danny van Leeuwen Health Hats

Caring for Parents. It’s Their Life. Open the Door.

By | Caregiver, ePatient, Family man, Podcasts | 2 Comments

Allie, Becky, and Jenni have gone through the gut-wrenching experience of trying to manage the physical and cognitive deterioration of their parents. How do you partner from a distance with reluctant parents? Do you intervene? How do you intervene? How much do you intervene? What’s best for them?  How do we maintain our boundaries as we help parents we love so much and make us so crazy?

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Salt in My Soul. An Unfinished Life

By | Advocate, Caregiver, ePatient, Podcasts | No Comments

Mallory Smith lived and died with Cystic Fibrosis. Mallory wrote, “Salt in My Soul: An Unfinished Life.” In this fifteen episode of Young Adults with Complex Conditions, I speak with mother, Diane. Mallory was Captain of her own ship, lived HAPPY, and shares many lessons with us. Heart-warming affirmation! Tragic, tragic, tragic!

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Best Spiritual Health, Dying

By | Caregiver, ePatient, Family man | One Comment

Sixteen years ago on November 18, 2002, our son, our brother, our friend, Michael Funk, died of metastatic melanoma at age 26. Mike said that he wasn’t born with a tattoo on his butt telling him how long he had to live.  What a gift.  Mike was a gift. His perspective about dying was a gift. One day we were sitting at the kitchen table talking about dying and superpowers. Mike thought that he and I had the same superpower: we both accept what is. Yup, he died young. That’s life. You open your heart and tragedy just walks right in. What’s the alternative? Closed heart? Not for me.

Welcome, my dear Health Hats blog readers, let me introduce you to the birth of Health Hats, the Podcast. We are here to empower people as they travel together toward best health. Best health includes physical, mental, and spiritual health. Today’s blog post and podcast are about Mike who found his best spiritual health over the last year of his life, as he died. Read More

Best Health at End of Life

By | Caregiver, ePatient, Family man, Podcasts | 6 Comments

Episode Summary

Best Health includes physical, mental, and spiritual health. Michael Funk, my son, died at age 26 on November 18, 2002, of metastatic melanoma. Mike found his best spiritual health in the last year of his life as he died. As Mike said, I wasn’t born with a tattoo telling me how long I had to live. This first episode of Health Hats, the Podcast, celebrates Mike’s journey through a montage of an interview with Mike several months before he died, a conversation with Bob Doherty who conducted that interview, and stories about my experiences with Mike. Listen as we try to make sense of this reality. Read More

WHAT RESEMBLES THE GRAVE BUT ISN’T

By | Advocate, Clinician, ePatient, Family man | No Comments

Photo by Lily Lvnatikk on Unsplash

Apologies for the duplicate post. I changed hosts and lost this post in the migration.

My friend and story-teller, Susan Spivack, sent me this poem. Really spoke to me. I may be pathologically optimistic and live in a comforting, safe, privileged bubble, but I allow myself moments of despair, feeling sorry for myself, and overwhelmed with the pain I feel around me. Doesn’t this say it beautifully?!

WHAT RESEMBLES THE GRAVE BUT ISN’T

Always falling into a hole, then saying “ok, this is not your grave, get out of this hole,” getting out of the hole which is not the grave, falling into a hole again, saying “ok, this is also not your grave, get out of this hole,” getting out of that hole, falling into another one; sometimes falling into a hole within a hole, or many holes within holes, getting out of them one after the other, then falling again, saying “this is not your grave, get out of the hole”; sometimes being pushed, saying “you can not push me into this hole, it is not my grave,” and getting out defiantly, then falling into a hole again without any pushing; sometimes falling into a set of holes whose structures are predictable, ideological, and long dug, often falling into this set of structural and impersonal holes; sometimes falling into holes with other people, with other people, saying “this is not our mass grave, get out of this hole,” all together getting out of the hole together, hands and legs and arms and human ladders of each other to get out of the hole that is not the mass grave but that will only be gotten out of together; sometimes the willful-falling into a hole which is not the grave because it is easier than not falling into a hole really, but then once in it, realizing it is not the grave, getting out of the hole eventually; sometimes falling into a hole and languishing there for days, weeks, months, years, because while not the grave very difficult, still, to climb out of and you know after this hole there’s just another and another; sometimes surveying the landscape of holes and wishing for a high quality final hole; sometimes thinking of who has fallen into holes which are not graves but might be better if they were; sometimes too ardently contemplating the final hole while trying to avoid the provisional ones; sometimes dutifully falling and getting out, with perfect fortitude, saying “look at the skill and spirit with which I rise from that which resembles the grave but isn’t!”

~Anne Boyer, “This project was co-curated by the journalism nonprofit the Economic Hardship Reporting Project and its Puffin Story Innovation Fund.”  ~https://billmoyers.com/story/poetry-month-what-resembles-the-grave-but-isnt/

Eulogy

My Aunt Kato (Kikke) Pomer (van Leeuwen) passed away this week at age 101.  Kikke was a Freudian psychiatrist who began medical school in the Netherlands just before the Nazis invaded. She and her family escaped to the United States, She couldn’t gain admittance to medical school here because she was a woman, a Jew, and a refugee.  A family friend suggested that she meet Albert Einstein and ask him for a reference. She did and he did.  She graduated from Johns Hopkins Medical School and practiced in LA into her 90’s. Aunt Kikke inspired and encouraged me in nursing, advocacy, and in life. I’ll miss you.

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Receiving with Reckless Abandon

By | Caregiver, Clinician, Family man | No Comments

My boy, Mike, died 15 years ago today (sigh). Here’s a link to a video of an interview with Mike 4 months before he died. (11 minutes).

This anniversary and attending the National Caregiving Conference last week made me think about being a caree, someone who is being cared for. My grandmother, my mother, and Mike were carees. Mike accepted his mortality but didn’t want someone to have to wipe his butt. That was a point too far. As a Holocaust survivor, my mother craved being cared for all her life, yet was deeply ambivalent until her last days. She fought for control and felt deep gratitude for a warm, kind hand. My grandmother wanted more care than she needed (in my opinion, not hers). I mostly sensed fear. I’m only just tasting being a caree. Read More

CMS Quality Measures for People

By | Advocate, Caregiver, Clinician, ePatient, Informaticist, Leader, Researcher | 6 Comments

Payment for medical services is shifting from paying for volume (more visits, tests, visits, days = more money) to paying for value (quality of care). Makes sense. But what does value and quality of care mean? It means that physicians get paid an incentive (more money) for certain results (outcomes, process, actions). An example is readmission rates. If a physician’s patients are readmitted to a hospital after discharge more than most physicians, they don’t get the extra payment. There are roughly 1,000 of such quality measures. These quality measures are very important to us – people at the center of care (patients, caregivers, parents, direct care clinicians and staff) – because measurement strongly influences people and organizations who get paid for medical services. Following the money doesn’t necessarily mean better medical care, better health for us, better relationships among our healthcare teams, or better work life for our health professional partners.

I was nominated to sit on a CMS (Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services)/Battelle Quality Measurement Development Technical Advisory Panel (TEP). The TEP had its first meeting in Baltimore last week. I was one of 19 Panel members (and one of two with expertise in all four of the selection criteria -Consumer Perspective, Clinical Content, Performance Measurement, Coding and Informatics).  The TEP seeks to improve the process of developing measures. It isn’t trying to develop measures. The good news is that the TEP gelled as a team and the CMS/Battelle leaders seem open to, if not eager for, actionable advice. I am honored to have been asked to sit at this table.

As a Patient Activist and a change catalyst, I appreciate the formidable forces of inertia and the current business realities of the medical care industrial complex. What can little Danny van Leeuwen hope to accomplish? My goal in accepting this appointment is to find one lever that can move the Value-Based Measurement battleship three degrees toward value to people at the center of care. My superpower is to accept what is and go from there. After listening to my esteemed TEP colleagues, my perception of what is is:

  1. Measures serve to evaluate the performance of individual practitioners (not measure whether patients attain optimal health or how the team is functioning),
  2. Inertia is heading to further measure specificity by specialty and diagnosis (not toward the patient with more non-medical than medical determinants of health who is more than a sum of their diagnoses),
  3. Data for measurement exists primarily in claims, diagnostic systems, and Electronic Medical Records (much less patient-generated data and experience/perceptions of people at the center of care),
  4. Physicians bristle at the idea of being held accountable for anything they deem out of their control (rather than what can I do to contribute to improving whatever?),
  5. People at the center of care, insurers, and policymakers all feel ill at ease with uncertainty,
  6. Few, if any, incentives exist for data vendors to integrate their data (So patients, caregivers, and parents using the most health care dollars provide the bulk of communication at transitions in care, if they can do it at all),
  7. Testing measures in real-life seems to be an almost insurmountable challenge (so the link between measures and what they seek to measure and the link between measurement and value to patients is tenuous),
  8. Direct care clinicians are stressed and burning out – the proportion of time they spent documenting rather than caring is growing while they feel pressure to increase productivity (rather than technology helping to reverse those trends),

Jeesh. Houston, we have a problem. Read More

Health Goals to Clinical Decisions (CDS)

By | Caregiver, Clinician, ePatient, Researcher | 2 Comments

It’s hard to reach personal health goals or solve medical problems without a plan.  Plans require decisions. Never-ending decisions (choices) in the health journey. Clinicians, researchers, and insurance companies study and use Clinical Decision Support (CDS) to help with the decision-making process. It’s a shortcut for using research (evidence) in the decision-making. Some talk about patient-centered decision support (see a definition at the bottom of this post). They’re trying to figure out how to help people to make decisions in two minutes of ten-minute visits. Yet, few patients or caregivers I’ve met ever talk about CDS.  So how can people understand the value and limitations of CDS? Read More

Penny Whistle for Father

By | Family man, Musician | 2 Comments

Who knew he loved penny whistles?  The pianist who accompanied his cello-playing friend on piano for years told a story yesterday at his funeral. At Christmas last year, this father who I knew as awkward, serious, unemotional, religious, conservative, classical music-loving, got the church choir penny whistles and led them in a performance of Good King Wenceslaus. While the story was told, the priest pulled a penny whistle out from the pulpit and tweeted a few notes.  “It’s there to keep me humble.”

I consider myself a good read of people. 50-75% of the time I’m spot on (That’s 25-50% spot off).  It leads me to an occasional empathy-challenged state. A penny whistle can tip the balance.

Happy Father’s Day all you fathers.  I love the father in my sons. Here’s to you, Cliff, a faithful reader of this blog. You’ll be missed!

Coalition for Compassionate Care of California

By | Advocate, Caregiver, Clinician, ePatient, Leader, Researcher | One Comment


I attended the Coalition for Compassionate Care of California Conference (#CCCC17) in Sacramento this week as an ePatient Scholar. Exhilarating, informative, warm, curious, inspiring, and tiring. I hoped to leave with one novel (for me) insight into palliative care; hear patient, caregiver, and clinician stories about their experiences; to hear how clinicians receive education about end-of-life conversations; to add to my network of patient/caregiver experts; and leave with a sharper focus for my #careplanning work. Amazing! I accomplished all five. I hoped to accomplish three of five (I habitually set myself up to exceed expectations). Read More