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Tag: end of life

Going in Peace

All too often in my forty years of practicing medicine, I’ve seen patients die hard, lonely deaths—lying on a stretcher under the emergency department’s glaring lights, or all alone in an ICU bed.

In extreme situations, the patient is covered in medical equipment: a breathing tube in the mouth, defibrillator pads on the chest, monitor leads on the torso, IV lines dangling from the neck and arms. When family members finally enter the room, it’s

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Why Isn’t He Listening?

I was in my third year of medical school, partway through my psychiatry rotation.

“You’re ready for your first mental-capacity consult,” my attending said. I felt excited at being deemed ready to administer this evaluation, which is used to determine whether a patient has the ability to make decisions about their own care.

“The medicine team is confused about this one,” my attending continued. “He’s clinically improving from his COVID infection, but he wants to

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Dying Is Ugly

Bang my shins, my temple on the gritty wall
Of Charlie’s deathbed
Where we do not wrest the truth
But beg him Let us change the (piss-stenched) sheets.
He will not go for tests, insists, denial overarching

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Deep Diver

I knock on the partly open door and peek around the curtain. A grainy yellow light above the hospital bed falls on a frail, trembling woman as she struggles to comb her wet grey hair.

“Margaret?” I say quietly.

She does not hear me over the hiss of the supplemental oxygen. I watch her for a moment longer.

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Where My Story Ends and Yours Begins

It was a Thursday morning, my first day on the medical oncology service. I hurriedly gathered my white coat and badge, the block letters “3rd Year Medical Student” unmistakable in fresh ink. Taking a deep breath, I forced myself to look up at the cancer center.

This is going to be difficult, I thought.

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Regret

A full head of white hair.

Each in its place.

Not just neatly.

Meticulously.

Perfectly.

A full head of white hair. That’s what I see in my minds’ eye, when I close my actual eyes and conjure up my grandfather.

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A Beginner’s Touch

My husband George got to know Ruthie while he was sitting with his mom during her final days in an assisted-living facility. Ruthie, a hospice worker, was a middle-aged woman who had reentered the workforce after raising her kids. As a nursing-assistant trainee, she was learning on the job, with George’s mom, unconscious and steadily declining, as one of her first patients.

Soon after meeting Ruthie, George was struck by her lack of self-confidence.

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I Wish I’d Known

From the computer screen a few inches away, Oliver’s honey-brown eyes gazed into mine in the unadulterated way that only children’s eyes can, matching the directness of his question:

“Is he going to die?”

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The Other Side of the Mask

I don’t know what it’s like on the other side of the mask.

Not the cloth mask, which I now wear every day, as habitually as my socks. I mean the plastic bipap mask, which provides the highest level of ventilation COVID patients can receive, short of intubation.

That mask.

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A Time to Mend

“After eighty-five years of life, I still don’t know what death is,” said Lonnie, as I sat beside her bed in the nursing home. “I just know it scares the heck out of me.”

Despite decades as a hospice social worker, I don’t know what death is either; but I’ve spent much time with patients exploring the question together.

“What scares you?” I asked.

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Blue Book

Days before she died

my mother stood in line,

took a picture for a passport—

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Ghosts

For months, as I’ve visited Evan as his hospice social worker, he’s been praying to die. In his early nineties, he has been dealing with colorectal cancer for more than four years, and he’s flat tired out. As he sees it, the long days of illness have turned his life into a tedious, meaningless dirge with nothing to look forward to other than its end. He’s done, finished. He often talks about killing himself.

On

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