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The CHCF Blog

In Extremis: The Stark Reality of Life and Death in the ICU

Steven Birenbaum, Senior Communications Officer
Steven Birenbaum
Steven Birenbaum

The first time intensive care unit physician Jessica Zitter encountered the "family support team" — a precursor to the palliative care services now routinely found in hospitals — it didn't go well. Zitter felt threatened. She thought, "Who are these people getting in the middle of my relationship with my patients and telling me I'm not doing it well or not asking enough questions?"

Like many doctors early in their careers, Zitter was convinced her role was to save patients "from the jaws of death." Over the years, however, she came to realize she was often causing more suffering, particularly for those who were dying or frail. But that was the paradigm in which she had been trained. "The way I had been taught," she said, "was when this organ starts to fail, insert this catheter. And when that cardiac function isn't working, use this medication. And when the person stops being able to breathe, insert a breathing tube."

Read the complete story and see my interview with Zitter on Medium.

Highland Hospital Intensive Care Unit, 9:26 AM

About Steven

Steven Birenbaum is a senior communications officer at CHCF, where he promotes the foundation's reports and initiatives to key audiences and manages a portfolio of public media grants.

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