Live Meaningfully at the End of Life

ThedaCare At Home Presents ‘Consider the Conversation:  A Documentary on a Taboo Subject’ on March 21

How do you want to live at the end of your life? It’s a vitally important question, and one that too many individuals, families and health care providers never ask of each other.

“Consider the Conversation: A Documentary on a Taboo Subject” aims to ask this question and inspire meaningful dialogue between patient and doctor, husband and wife, parent and child, minister and parishioner. Throughout the film, life’s final chapter is reframed as a normal process -- one rich in opportunity for human development rather than a failed medical event.

ThedaCare At Home is hosting a special event at 6 p.m. Thurs., March 21 at the Menominee Casino Convention Center in Keshena. Attendees will watch “Consider the Conversation: A Documentary on a Taboo Subject” followed by a panel discussion with an attorney, chaplain, and social worker. The event is free and no registration is required.

Teri Metropulos, ThedaCare At Home hospice manager and event emcee, said “Consider the Conversation” raises a lot of important questions that people need to consider.

“We need to start talking about end-of-life care, a very sensitive issue,” she said. “We want to empower individuals to share with their loved ones and providers what their wishes are, before a crisis occurs. When those wishes are known and respected, we avoid unnecessary or unwanted interventions or side effects that lessen one’s quality of life when life expectancy is limited.”

Documentary filmmakers Mike Bernhagen, director of community engagement and care partner relations at Rainbow Hospice Care in Jefferson, and Terry Kaldhusdal, a fourth grade teacher and filmmaker from Oconomowoc, were both inspired to delve deeply into end-of-life issues after experiencing the loss of precious family members. Bernhagen watched his mother Rita die from congestive heart failure and vascular dementia without the benefit of the gentle physical, emotional and spiritual support provided by hospice care, a service about which he knew very little at the time. Kaldhusdal helped his 53-year-old brother Peter as he journeyed through his last two years of pancreatic cancer, ultimately under hospice care, and was inspired to learn more – and tell more – about his experiences and choices.

The duo shot more than 70 hours of film over the course of two years of interviews with patients, family members, doctors, nurses, clergy, social workers, and national experts from around the country. Released in 2011, “Consider the Conversation” has been widely distributed via the National Educational Telecommunications Association, airing 355 times on 157 PBS stations in 29 states. To date, the film has won nine major awards including one for journalistic excellence and four for social change and viewer impact.

In late September, the Wisconsin Medical Society cited “Consider the Conversation” as the catalyst for a statewide initiative called Honoring Choices Wisconsin to make conversations about advanced care planning a standard part of patient care. The goal of the society’s initiative is to have individuals make their wishes known – whether they want heroic measures taken or not – as they face emergencies or terminal illness.

Bernhagen explained that American medicine’s success at fighting disease and extending life has created a new problem. About 50 years ago a cultural shift began, and most people can now expect to die slowly and incrementally, likely in a hospital or nursing home. Because most Americans will not die at home, they typically avoid discussing issues of death and dying.

“When death migrated out of the family home, a cultural void was created. Now it is widely viewed with fear and denial and uncertainty – as if death is optional. It’s time to put the proverbial horse back in front of the cart,” he said.  “People from a cross section of the community have come together at these events and recognized there’s something universally human about end-of-life – something that transcends what makes us different – and that is the desire to express one’s hopes, fears and wishes about a very normal part of life.”

During the past seven years, ThedaCare At Home has received numerous recognitions as one of the fastest growing and best performing home care agencies in the nation. ThedaCare At Home provides a continuum of home care services, including skilled nursing, home and residential hospice care, respiratory services, infusion therapy, home medical equipment, rehab and mobility, remote monitoring, and other specialty services. ThedaCare At Home serves more than 17,000 patients in 10 counties, including Outagamie, Winnebago, Calumet, Brown, Green Lake, Waushara, Waupaca, Shawano, Menominee, and Oconto counties. There are more than 350 employees, including 150 licensed health care professionals in 15 different specialties. ThedaCare At Home also operates Cherry Meadows Hospice and the ThedaCare Hospice Residence on the Peabody–Heritage campus in Appleton. Follow us on Facebook.

ThedaCare™ is a community health system consisting of five hospitals: Appleton Medical Center, Theda Clark Medical Center, New London Family Medical Center, Shawano Medical Center, and Riverside Medical Center in Waupaca. ThedaCare also includes ThedaCare Physicians, ThedaCare Behavioral Health, and ThedaCare at Home. ThedaCare is the largest employer in Northeast Wisconsin with more than 6,175 employees. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter.