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Man Creates Library of Interviews With Terminally Ill Patients

July 3, 1985

GRANTS PASS, Ore. (AP) _ While battling Lou Gehrig’s disease and cancer, George Russell came to believe that sharing pain made it hurt less.

Before his death a year ago, he thought about compiling a national library of videotaped interviews with people suffering from terminal illnesses. His dream is now being realized through a friend, Bob Schillinger, and an organization called On With Living.

″There was a need, as George and I discovered, to reach out and make that first contact with people,″ said Schillinger. ″It takes nerve to get out and go to a meeting. I takes a lot of nerve to do that. On with Living gives you a tape you can take into your home.″

Schillinger met Russell through Make Today Count, a national support network for terminally ill people and their families. Schillinger’s mother was dying of cancer.

″George told me most of the population spends most of the time rejecting the potential death of a relative,″ Schillinger said. ″He said, ‘Sometimes it is wise to acknowledge it is going to happen and deal with that. Start your grieving while the people are still alive. Share your sorrow with them. Don’t stand there with a strong upper lip. Put your head on your mother’s chest and shed a tear if it makes you feel better. It will make her feel better.’

″He was right,″ Schillinger said. ″It made the time with my mother much more enjoyable. And it made the time afterwards not a nightmare, not sitting here all of a sudden with two tons of grief. I had already taken care of 1.75 tons of it up front.″

The idea was to assemble a library of videotaped interviews with people suffering from the 48 types of terminal illness defined by the federal Bureau of Vital Statistics death records.

″If a parent had a child that died of crib death syndrome, we’ll have a tape on that topic,″ Schillinger said. ″One of the things that will be in the library is murder. It’s hardly ever dealt with. There are people out there who had a loved one murdered and they’ve gone into their house and never come out again.

″But I think 80 percent of the tapes will be on cancer,″ he said.

Schillinger, a business and marketing consultant, has so far made 18 tapes, some of which are still being edited.

″I have been taking them to nursing homes and doing talks on what the tape represents and why it’s valuable,″ Schillinger said. ″The reaction has been great. The last one I did, there were about 40 nurses there and about 10 or 12 of them actually were crying when I showed the tape.″

Karen Nollenberger asked Schillinger to show a tape to her nursing class at Southern Oregon State College in Ashland.

″I thought it was one of most useful tools for new nursing students who have limited experience on a ward dealing with people with serious illnesses,″ Mrs. Nollenberger said. ″It was an opportunity for them to see firsthand the stages of grieving they hear about in theory.

″It’s still a frightening thing for physicians and nurses to deal with,″ she said. ″You may not always be able to help people to live, but you can still help them have a death that is the best they can have.

″Also, it shows that nurses should have a chance to grieve, too. The individual is grieving, the family is grieving. The nurses should take time to grieve as well.″

Schillinger said his goal was to produce a tape a week, 50 tapes a year.

″We’ve only been stopped by the lack of funds,″ he said. ″My personal funds are depleted. We have everything else in place.″

Schillinger said he and Russell had greatly underestimated the need for the service among doctors, nurses and other medical personnel.

″There are just a lot of people out there in health care who really want to understand these people better and just can’t get the time to do it on the job,″ he said.

″A lot of requests are coming from hospice groups, personal contact groups. We really expected it to be more of an individual desire. Fifty percent of the inquiries we are getting are from groups.″

Eventually, Schillinger said, On With Living will distribute the tapes by subscription for about $20 each. In addition, he said, anyone in the country would be able to rent tapes for $1 or $2 a day from a central library.

CIM Associates Inc., a Medford, Ore., video studio, has donated production services.

″I feel it’s a worthwhile project,″ said CIM president Roger Lounsbury. ″People need these tapes to uplift them and encourage them.″

One of Schillinger’s interviews was with Lora Addington, a Ruch housewife who is in remission after a bout with ovarian cancer. On the tape, Mrs. Addington wears a kerchief to hide her hair, thinned by radiation and chemotherapy. She speaks directly into the camera.

″I think you have to realize right away that you are not dead,″ she said on the tape. ″I didn’t want to admit something was wrong. I didn’t want to go to a doctor. I just wanted it to go away. I think I was afraid to admit something was wrong.

″I was so relieved I had finally gone to the doctor’s,″ she added. ″I just cried with my husband. We just cried together.″

Since making the tape, Mrs. Addington said she had benefitted from sharing her feelings and hoped others would realize they were not alone.

″I think it’s really necessary, because people tend to withdraw and go through all kinds of feelings they are afraid to share,″ she said.

″Getting over the depression was more important than getting over the disease. I saw that if I spent a year or two years depressed and got better, I would have wasted two years.″

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