Tuesday, July 15, 2008


I had my first patient die the other day. It was strange. Where a person was, a body lay. I had empathy and compassion for something that occupied that body, something which was striving and had purpose and soul. Then, with the flattening of a line and the quieting of a beat, that something was gone and the body became flesh. Since there was no clergy or physician available at the time, it was left to me to tell the patient's dearest loved ones that this had occured. With compassion, but without pretense, I informed the family that the soul they had cherished was now beyond their reach. Maybe someday, when their living bodies still and become flesh, they will be reunited, but I left that for them to work out. All I knew was that the person I had cared for was now gone and it was up to me to get the flesh off of the bed so the housekeeper could wipe it down and we could put a new body onto it.

When the housekeeper was nearly finished in the room, I noticed a scrap of paper pressed up against the side of a clear trash bag (clear trash bags in a hospital, what a swell idea). In the final hours of life, my patient had scrawled some barely legible message on this sheet. Seeing that handwriting was eerie. There was a bit of my patient's spirit stuck to that page. The symbols on that page weren't just a note, they were the last remnants of that individual's consciousness left in that room. It made me think a lot about the frailty of life and the nature of what we leave behind. In the hospital we have lots of plaques on the walls dedicated to old-timey physicians who were probably big shots back in the day, but to me now they are no different than any other dead person. Life is too short to be prideful, arrogant, and hateful.

Someday your lungs will fill with fluid as your heart loses the capacity to push the blood through your body; your cells will starve and you will die. In the same way, the field laborer, the imbecile, the artist, and the trauma surgeon will all finish their lives. Many will do so with a young nurse standing by, ready to file their paperwork and clear their bed.

Isn't it weird sometimes how the more you experience, the less you know?

"People are just people; people are just people like you", "and everyone must breathe until their dying breath". (Yeah, I'm kind of a Regina Spektor nut lately.)

No comments: