WVU Physician’s Article to be Featured in Medical Journal

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Few people know they are speaking their last words; what they say usually concerns only immediate events. Yet last words can profoundly affect feelings about the speaker. 

A West Virginia University physician discusses patients’ last words before dying in an article to be published today (April 12) in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

An anesthesiologist and professor at WVU, Johnstone is often called to place breathing tubes in patients for critical care treatments. His patients are sedated afterwards, and sometimes don’t survive. Johnstone occasionally hears their last words before placing a breathing tube between their vocal cords. 

People commonly parse final words for personal philosophies. As a physician, Johnstone tries to see that his patients’ last words are appropriate and memorable, without tension. Final words are primarily for the living who remain with memories of a friend or relative. A final message of gratitude to the survivors is always well received, Johnstone says.

“We prosper with the help of others. Recognizing them is something they will cherish,” Johnstone says. “When death is expected, planned words of inspiration, patriotism, or love are best.  Many famous people have spoken final words, and are sometimes famous because of them.”

“Physician-writers want simply to acknowledge and honor their patients. They entered medicine for the simple human act of helping another person,” said JAMA editor Roxanne Young.

JAMA is an international peer-reviewed general medical journal that promotes the science and art of medicine and the betterment of the public health.  Johnstone’s essay can be viewed online at http://jama.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/full/295/14/1624.

- WVU -

For more information:
Bill Case, HSC News Service, (304) 293-7087

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