The Zen of Eating Cream of Wheat: A Journey Into Dementia

As a bedside hospice volunteer in San Francisco, I always have the choice of whether or not to accept an assignment. Some, I immediately know are right for me, such as sitting with a man my age who was estranged from his family and desperately wanted to reconnect with them. With others, especially those with advanced Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia, I occasionally question whether the assignment makes sense—but not anymore.

What Makes You Think You’ll Live Forever?

The opening line of the pamphlet was straightforward: Join us in a workshop where you will experience your own death. Six months prior, I would have thought it an interesting exercise. But having received a diagnosis of “aggressive prostate cancer,” it had the relevance of a guidebook for an upcoming trip.

The Zeniness of Aging

It began when I dropped a ceramic pie dish for no apparent reason. Expensive, but replaceable. Not a big deal I thought, just my new clumsy self. But the next day when I tripped going up the stairs and sprained my ankle, I questioned that it was clumsiness. And when I fell off my bicycle, again for no apparent reason and tore up the left side of my body, I became concerned—really concerned.

Patient Choice: A Medical Cop-Out

It was an invitation that made no sense. I was asked to be a special guest of the South Korean Ministry of Tourism and KMI International, a company that markets medical tourism. Why me, I wondered? As I re-read the invitation, I remembered another strange offer I received in the 1970’s during a tense period in Israeli-Arab relations. “Hello Dr. Goldberg,” an official from the Jordan Ministry of Education had said. “We’d like to know if you would be interested in coming to Ramallah to conduct a seminar on stuttering therapy this summer.”

Becoming Something Different

In Tibetan Buddhism the word “bardo” refers to a transition or a gap between the completion of one situation and the beginning of another. That gap can occur between life and death, ignorance and understanding, or in the case of speech-language pathology, between who we were and what we are becoming.

Dying the Way We Live

People who were dying in the Middle Ages said their goodbyes, gave away the furniture, and just stopped breathing. The non-event was witnessed by friends and family, who, at the moment of death absconded with anything of value. Later, they might gather to either celebrate or deride the person’s life. Today, although we rarely fight over furniture, we do something worse.

Memories: A Call to Reconnect

Did you ever have a memory that rode into your consciousness on the back of a passing odor, object, or random word? Something you desperately tried to forget? But despite your best efforts, it still seeped through your emotional protective wall as if the wall was made of cheesecloth.

Prostate Cancer Research Funding and Male Vanity

As someone who’s living with prostate cancer, I applauded Louis Gossett Jr.’s testimony in Congress on the importance of prostate cancer research funding. If congress was listening, maybe I’ll live long enough for something else to kill me. But according to the American Cancer Society statistics, I shouldn’t hold my breath.

Dying Stands Logic on its Head

We often harshly judge behaviors we don't understand. They can involve someone's ingratitude, anger, or actions we label as foolish. I recently was guilty of the same thing here in the San Francisco Bay area with one of my hospice patients.