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 remembers thinking, “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.”
Zitter’s approach to care at the end of life has evolved in striking ways. Today she brings her intensity and self-effacing manner to both critical care and palliative care in the ICU. Her journey has been captured in a new Oscar-nominated short documentary, Extremis. The film, just 24 minutes, chronicles the painful reality of life and death in the ICU at Highland Hospital, a large Oakland public hospital best known for its trauma unit.
Directed by Berkeley filmmaker Dan Krauss, who pursued the project after Zitter spent several years imploring filmmakers to make it, Extremis is a powerful, gut-wrenching film that follows three dying patients and grief-stricken families grappling with enormous suffering and a lack of good choices. (…) Read Full Publication Here