When Dr. Drew Rosielle started his blog, Pallimed, he envisioned it as a serious forum to discuss a serious topic: end-of-life care.
But blogs have a way of taking on a life of their own. Which may explain why you'll find entries on the art of "hospice haiku," Maurice Sendak and "an absolutely hilarious video" about Darth Vader, produced by medical students at the University of Minnesota.
"The blog was never grim-faced," said Rosielle, 38, an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota. But over time, the scholarly debates have made way for musings about "death panels" and other pop-culture references to death and dying.
Last week, he won a coveted Hastings Center Cunniff-Dixon Physician Award for his work on end-of-life care, including the blog (pallimed.org).
The fact is, doctors are often as reluctant as patients or their families to broach the subject, Rosielle said. The blog tries to pierce that veil of fear by injecting humor and satire into the mix.
Last spring, for example, Rosielle featured "The Phantom Directive," a "Star Wars"-themed student video (startribune.com/a2016). In it, a nervous young doctor tries to talk to Darth Vader about living wills, or "advance directives."
"Please don't liquidate me if I have to ask you this again," says the doctor (played by University of Minnesota med student Justin Stamschror). "We just want to make sure, when it's your last days in this far, far away galaxy, that you don't get any treatments that you maybe wouldn't want to have." Darth Vader replies: "I fear that it is too late for that, doctor."
Rosielle notes that he had no role in the video, but that it makes an important point about "the huge barriers" around end-of-life discussions. "Doctors [are] afraid they're going to harm their patients by talking about it," he said. But research, he says, shows the opposite.
"It helps people plan," he said. "I think the serious message is that advanced care planning genuinely helps patients and families."