My mom used to tell me that the only thing in life that’s certain is change.  She was right about that one, and she made me believe it (and live it) with all the moving and changing and coming and going.  Twenty-five years later, my life hasn’t settled a single bit, and I firmly believe that “stable” and “lifestyle” are never meant to be together.  Since August, I’ve moved from a tropical island in the Caribbean (whose existence I have come to doubt), to my “home,” and then to a weird little place in Michigan.  I’ve come across people I never knew existed and some I wish never had.  And one I wish could stay a little longer.

I’m currently finishing up my M2 year (I’m thisclose to being an M3, I can almost feel it), and for the first time in my life, I’ve found myself in a situation where life and death meet.  My first patient, my first passing.  I don’t remember anyone saying anything to me in my basic science years about how to deal with a patient dying and yet, that’s a large part of the medical profession: dealing with death.  There are no words I can find to describe the storm of feelings and emotions I’m experiencing.  I don’t know how to categorize or sublimate or confine these emotions.  I don’t know what I’m supposed to do or not do.  I know that my patient, with her passing, is finally going to be free of pain and free of disease.  I know that her family is grieving and I wonder, what right do I have, if any, to grieve, too?  I’ve only known her for a short nine weeks.

It wasn’t as if this were completely unexpected: I knew from the beginning that she was preparing herself for death. Her disease was progressive and she opted for palliative care.  She was in a lot of pain throughout the time I knew her.  Yet, I didn’t think I would be around to see her slip away.  To see her “condition deteriorate” as it’s put in clinical terms.  I didn’t think I’d have to see her family gather to read the Bible aloud and sing hymns to her.  I didn’t think I’d be part of that.  I didn’t know I could be part of that.  It’s something I hope I never forget.

A part of me feels like I shouldn’t be allowed to cry or to have bonded so closely with my patient.  A part of me wishes I had gotten to know her better.  My whole heart hopes that, in her last few months while I was with her, I didn’t cause her any undue pain or suffering.  I hope with my whole heart that she’s at peace.

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