Tag Archives: death

For Mrs.S

 

I appreciate your candor and thoughtfulness…and lastly, I hope you’ll find a life of happiness.” 

Mrs.S passed away last night, and her family handed me a small white card with cherry blossoms (my absolute favorite), and those were her last words to me.

Mrs.S came in 2wks ago screaming in pain from metastatic ovarian cancer that she fought brilliantly for 10 years of her life, beating all the odds and statistics we love to throw at our patients. Her CT scan showed that more concerning than her shoulder pain, was her entire right chest was crushed by a gigantic tumor mass. The pulmonary doctor chuckled to me “she’s all yours, that’s the worst lung I’ve ever seen.” Mrs.S had almost no lung left. She went to Mexico to receive dendritic cell treatment, which did not work. It was clear on that night, she did not have much time on her side.

Over the next 2 weeks of my internal medicine rotation, I sat with her. There was no cure, there was no particular medical miracle I can offer her except pain control. She began to tell me the stories of her life. she met her husband at age 26, when he was 19. They spent a lifetime touring together as musicians, and they have no children. Some winters in Michigan, they would spend months indoors next to the fire together because it was painfully cold outside. They told stories and read novels to each other to pass time. They spent their 25th anniversary in the hospital over a liquid diet. She spoils her niece like crazy. She hated Spy Kids movies…we laughed over all these details of her life.

Then one day, sitting in the green armchair of the hospital room, she got serious. She looked at me and said she was afraid, not of death, but of leaving the love of her life all alone.

I looked at this woman who is more than a lifetime ahead of me in experience and age, standing less than a week from dying, being afraid for the pain this would cause her husband. As she spoke these words, her husband, working intently on his computer at the other corner of the room, came over. He told her that he had a lifetime of “happiness and love”, and he’ll be okay.

There are defining moments of our lives where everything we do just makes sense. As I watched a loving husband comfort the fears of his dying wife, I fell in love with internal medicine. There was no where else in the world I would rather be, nothing else I would rather do despite the months of indecision over my specialty options for residency applications this year.

And dear Mrs.S,

Your husband is busy driving across the country to take that trans-America trip you wished for. That’s how he chose that morning to celebrate your life.

As for me…I too, hope I’ll find a lifetime of happiness.

Because Real People Die…

He’s a really sweet man, he has a family, and grandkids, and he’s lying there with his white hair and beard. On the first day of my inpatient medicine, he taught me how to do the heart exam on him. We saw him everyday, he was our cheerful patient, he will go home in a week. Then one morning, he looked a little sad, we talked and patted his shoulder, telling him to hang in there for us. So…it hurts, like hell, when you type his name into your computer the next morning and the computer pops up with the message “pt deceased at 1630, click ok to continue to records.” He went uroseptic, then shock, without a fever.

He wasn’t the only one to die, I’ve only been on medicine for a few wks, I’ve seen more death than I’ve bargained for.

Patient B has an 8cm cholangiocarcinoma, I stood there watching my attending break the news and watch his daughter’s world shatter in 5min. I watched her crawl into her father’s arms while he comforted her on how this is all “part of life.” How is his cancer part of life?

Patient C has ALS, he was walking and bouncing in July. In October, he can’t move anything. 1 finger means yes, 2 means no. Every morning we have the same question, “are you in pain?” He answers with 2 fingers. Until 2 mornings ago, we spoke with him about “how hospital may not be the best place for him.” Tears came out of his eyes, I’ve never seen a frozen face cry before, and we cried together. The pain is deeper than anything I’ve ever known.

They wrap their bodies in an American flag and we see families say their last good-byes. I once wrote about how much I wanted to be a doctor for the “people.” People is something I was rarely hesitant to open up to, to reciprocate, to let in. Now, I can tell you, I keep a wall between my patients and I. A wall so I can survive medicine, and they can get objective care.