Zubin Damania is not your average doctor.
Known to millions of YouTubers as ZDoggMD, he has taken on testicular cancer, sleep apnea, anti-vaxxers and unprotected sex with rap-inspired parodies of popular music videos. His latest effort explores the physical and societal costs of prolonged, invasive end of life treatments and unknown care wishes.
“Ain’t The Way To Die” – a reworking of the massively popular 2010 single “Love The Way You Lie” by Eminem and Rihanna – has been viewed more than 120,000 times since its July 28th upload.
He sings: Just gonna stand there and watch me burn/ end of life and now my wishes go unheard/ they just prolong and me and don’t ask why, but it’s not right because this ain’t the way to die, this ain’t the way to die.
“It took ten years working at Stanford as a hospital doctor, seeing how dysfunctional our system was, and feeling like I had no voice,” the 42 year-old Damania told Life Matters Media. “We weren’t focusing on patients, but on the bureaucracy. It was sort of a cry for help in 2010, because I was so burned out. If I didn’t reconnect with what I was passionate about– making people laugh and educating people– I was going to go crazy and probably have to quit my job.”
The project reinvigorated him, and Damania has since founded Turntable Health, a membership based primary-care clinic in Las Vegas. He hopes that his newest video, both catchy and comical, encourages viewers to consider their final wishes and discuss issues like artificial nutrition, hospice care, do-not-resuscitate orders and futile interventions with their families.
As health care costs rise and millions of baby boomers age, Damania wants to change the culture surrounding death. “I see so much horror at the end of life in how we treat everything,” Damania said. “That goes for patients not making these decisions, not having these conversations, family members misinterpreting wishes and applying their own guilt or values on a patient, and physicians refusing to have conversations. They feel that death is kind of a failure.”
Damania’s humor in discussing death continues a pattern of poking fun at taboos. “More Than Warts,” an anthem to the HPV vaccine, is inspired by Extreme’s “More Than Words.” His “poo-rody,” “Nothing Compares 2 Poo,” remakes the Prince ballad made famous by Sinead O’Connor in 1990.
“With end of life and dying, everyone really deeply wants to have this conversation,” Damania said. “But the taboos are a result of fear of dying and fear of our loved ones dying. Partially, it’s all the egotistic grasping we have. These videos just open the conversation.”
Each video takes about one week to complete. Damania writes the lyrics with his friend Dr. Harry Duh, a pediatrician with the Permanente Medical Group in California. He edits them himself.
“I always try to pick songs that I personally love,” he added. “We did a song called ‘Readmission,’ a parody to the R. Kelly song, ‘Ignition.’ That was a readmission anthem waiting to happen.”
Damania said he was one of many younger doctors discouraged by the demands of conformity within the U.S. health care system. However, social media platforms like YouTube and Twitter have become outlets for his creativity; ZDoggMD videos have attracted more than five million YouTube views.
Damania, a music minor in college who played guitar, started this project with no singing experience. “I’ve always been internally writing little parodies, and in school I was kind of the class clown,” he said.
Damania’s success in tackling end of life issues comes nearly a year after the Institute of Medicine called for new public engagement strategies to foster informed decision-making. In its seminal report, Dying in America, the IOM recommended the use of “appropriate media and other channels to reach audiences, including underserved populations,” as well as the encouragement of “meaningful dialogue among individuals and their families and caregivers, clergy and clinicians about values, care goals, and preferences related to advanced serious illness.”
The IOM maintains that Americans are ready for this conversation, as many have seen how the current health care system has treated family members. Now, they do not want the same for themselves. As ZDoggMD sings, it “ain’t the way to die.”