October 8, 2004

Latest ‘House Organ’ sparks varied responses with look at death, dying

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Norman Urmy

Latest ‘House Organ’ sparks varied responses with look at death, dying

The October House Organ, with its cover story, “Special Report: Of Death and Dying and VUMC,” has turned out to be one of the most talked-about VUMC publications in years, with some readers finding it comprehensive and meaningful and others regarding the presentation as insensitive.

One lightning rod appears to be the cover image — a photo illustration — of the uncovered feet of what is presumed to be a human body with a toe tag. The story and illustrations were by John Howser of News and Public Affairs.

Several hundred issues of the October House Organ were temporarily removed from racks in patient care areas at the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt last Friday, after a parent complained about the issue’s content and cover.

Following a meeting between Children’s Hospital staff and the Office of News and Public Affairs on Monday, the issues were restored to some of the racks and the News and Public Affairs office has agreed to return the rest of the issues with a posted note on the racks containing information about Medical Center resources regarding death (see list below).

The News and Public Affairs office received several positive phone calls and e-mails about the issue, which covered topics such as death and dying, when autopsies are done, how people donate their bodies to science, and what students learn from cadavers.

Pat Chenger, administrative director of Nursing and Clinical Support at Children’s Hospital, said she believes the cover photo illustration might have been a major issue for the parent involved. “In terms of content, the description of the morgues could have been upsetting as well. The remainder of the article does not appear to conjure up any thoughts for me that could be a problem, however, I am not the parent of a dying child or a family member. I do understand this may be a concern for somebody in this situation.”

Wayne Wood, editor of House Organ, said he believes it was a difficult subject, portrayed comprehensively and sensitively.

“I am proud of the story, of the excellent reporting and writing John Howser did on a difficult and emotional subject,” Wood said. “It’s probably unavoidable that an unflinching look at death and dying will upset some people, and I apologize to anyone who was offended by the issue. I hope that people at the Medical Center will take this as an opportunity to learn more about resources here to help our patients, families and staff.”

Death and dying resources:

Faculty and Staff Resources: When a member of the faculty or staff has difficulty with their own feelings and experiences with the death of a patient, Work/Life Connections-EAP is ready to help them process that loss, whether it is on an individual basis or done as a group response to a critical incident at the request of a manager.

The Pediatric Advanced Comfort team offers comprehensive pain relief and counseling for children with life-threatening illnesses, their families and the staff and faculty who work with them (Mary Jo Gilmer, 343-0938 or 936-PACT).

The Vanderbilt Medical Center's Pastoral Care (343-3535) or the University Chaplain's Office (322-2457) may provide support for dealing with grief.

Work/Life Connections-EAP also maintains a library of self-help books, including many on death and dying, available on loan to faculty and staff (936-1327).

Family Resources: The Crisis Intervention Center at 244-7444 is a telephone service that maintains lists of current resources for dealing with loss and grief, support groups for those who have lost loved ones, and groups for survivors of a suicide.

The Mental Health Association serves as a resource for information and referral at 269-5355.

Counseling can be obtained from a psychiatrist, therapist, clergy, or agency.

Additional counseling resources can be accessed by calling the Centerstone Community Mental Health Centers (463-6600); Respond at the Psychiatric Hospital at Vanderbilt (327-7000); the Psychological and Counseling Center at Vanderbilt (322-2571); or CAPs at Parthenon Pavilion (342-1450).

Alive Hospice at 327-1085 or in Murfreesboro at 896-4663 is also a helpful resource for those who have lost a loved one to a terminal illness.

Gilda's Club at 329-1124 offers grief counseling for children, spouses and friends of those who are dealing with cancer or a death due to cancer.

Compassionate Friends at 356-4823 provides groups for those dealing with their grief due to the death of a child.