“I thought you were dead.”

Guest blog post by Glen E. Miller, MD2MillerGlenI was speaking to a group of about 120 people on the cost of healthcare. I was on the third power point slide that graphically illustrated the escalating cost of healthcare. That much I remember.

Without any warning, I suddenly fell over backwards. My wife, Marilyn, sitting nearby, later told me, “I thought you were dead.” My heart had lost its effective rhythm and was no longer pumping blood throughout my body. The heart rhythm—ventricular fibrillation—left my heart a quivering mass, useless as a pump. An EMT (emergency medical technician) fireman, Mark, was at the meeting and with others immediately started CPR. The EMT squad arrived in seven minutes and gave me an electric shock that re-established my heart rhythm.

I had had a cardiac arrest, the most common cause of sudden death. And I beat the odds.

The likelihood of surviving a cardiac arrest with complete recovery is seven percent.  After five days in the hospital, I went home to an active life as before.

But life after that could not be the same. I now lived with the awareness that I could die at any time. And in view of my previous heart troubles, I need to accept that my life will likely be shortened. I am not going to live forever after all. There will be an end. Knowing that is called mortality awareness.

2013ImportOf2011Photos 064We can become aware of our mortality after an illness, accident or the death of a friend—anything that says I am not going to live forever after all. Of course we know that but it’s so easy to ignore this fundamental truth.

I decided it was time to get serious about preparing for my own death. As a doctor, I provided medical care for people who died a good death and those who did not. I was convinced that to make a good death more likely, I needed to proactively prepare.

The awareness of my mortality and the perception of a shortened life expectancy motivated me to pursue productive ways to continue to contribute to my family and to the common good of the larger community. I discussed with my family how much and what kind of medical care I wanted at the end of my life. I decided I want to die at home if it doesn’t create an undue burden for my family and most importantly, I want to create experiences and lasting memories that would enhance the bonding and togetherness of my family. I ended up with a checklist of tasks to be completed that brings peace of mind that I have done what I can to prepare to die well. What I learned became a book Living Thoughtfully, Dying Well, which has just been published by Herald Press this March, 2014. Read the news release here, or you can purchase the book here.

LivingThoughtfully2I welcome you to check it out and also invite you to dialogue with me at the blog I share with a friend and fellow traveler on this journey, Jep Hostetler, author of another Herald Press book, The Joy Factor. Together we offer perspective and ideas on how be more intentional in how we live our lives, and in how we prepare for the ending of our journey.

Here’s a short video introducing the website/blog and ourselves:

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Have you had discussions with your family members about your final wishes? About what to do if you suddenly are incapacitated?

Both Glen and Jep are available and happy to address any group on how to live in such a way that dying becomes a natural part of life. Contact them through their website or through MennoMedia, 800-245-7894.

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