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Tag: end of life

I Would Like to Call It Beauty

Gearing up for my night shift in the COVID-19 intensive-care unit, I don my personal protective equipment (PPE)–a white plastic air-purifying respirator (PAPR) hood. The hood connects via a tube to a large battery pack that I strap onto my waist over my scrubs. I turn on the battery and shiver when the rush of cool air blows past my ears. I walk into a bright white antechamber where a safety officer inspects me.

“You’re

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In the Biodome

In the Biodome

As a pulmonary and critical-care medicine fellow, I care for patients with a broad variety of respiratory ailments. But little did I know, as I examined my patient Mr. Smith in the outpatient pulmonary clinic this past winter, that I’d see him again only months later as my first patient with COVID-19.

Mr. Smith was tough as nails. A stoic retired steelworker and former smoker, he suffered from significant emphysema, but was inclined–by nature and

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A Flower in Winter

A Flower in Winter

It’s winter of 1993. A cold, snowy day. Windy. A blizzard. The phone rings.

I’m not on call for my patients today–except for one. Daisy has been in my care since the early 1970s, and given the risk that she may suffer a serious downturn, I’ve instructed her nursing home to call me whenever necessary.

This is that call. Daisy, my dear lady, the old artist, is dying.
Throughout her nine decades of

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Prayers of Passage

The day began in Mom’s room with a 10:00 am conference at Upper Valley Medical Center, west of Columbus, Ohio. In attendance were my ninety-three-year-old mother Joanne (now in her third week of hospitalization), her palliative-care nurse Richard, her Episcopal priest Mother Nancy and myself.

Mom was on high-flow oxygen therapy delivered through a nasal cannula. Despite this, her blood-oxygen levels were well below normal. Clearly, her lung function was declining. Her heart

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First Time, Last Time

“Deeper compressions! Deeper! Make sure you get that recoil!”

I push harder and lift off higher. I’m starting to sweat. My stethoscope is banging around my neck. I should have taken it off, I think. My hair is flying around my face. I should have tied it up. I’m on tiptoe; my legs are cramping. I should have stood on a step stool.

“All right, she’s getting tired. Next!”

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Every Doctor’s Nightmare


Bobak Akhavan ~

I was an intern, doing a rotation in the coronary-care unit (CCU) of a large urban hospital. It was very challenging: The patients had complex medical issues, and my fellow residents and I were given lots of responsibility for their care. Still, I felt I was finally getting the hang of residency.

One of the first patients I saw was Mrs. Smith, a middle-aged woman who had come to

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Bare Bones


Julie Evans ~

Clutching my duffel bag under my rain jacket, I dash from my truck toward a house that was built by Frankie, the man I’m here to give the last massage of his life.

I’ve been massaging people since I was five and have been a professional massage therapist for forty years. I don’t make house calls anymore, but it’s an honor to give a man the last massage of

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The Journey

My first day on the wards,
the senior resident handed me a white coat
emblazoned with the twin serpents of Asclepius,
and a stethoscope I proudly draped around my neck.
I thought I knew everything
about the dying patient assigned to me.

I listened studiously to John Doe’s lungs
filling rhythmically from a little machine
with a red diaphragm that pumped up and down

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The Memory Unit


Ann Anderson Evans ~

I arrive in the memory unit at 1:30 in the afternoon. Jean, my mother’s sister, is fast asleep in her hospital bed in Room 1410. For the past ten years, it has fallen to me to be her frequent visitor and care monitor. I do this willingly because without her generosity and compassion, my life would have been far less meaningful and enjoyable. She never married, but my brothers

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All I Could Do

Leigh B. Grossman ~

The clinic in rural Haiti is a small stucco building with no electricity or running water. The temperature inside the clinic is 103 degrees, and there is no breeze. The examining-room walls are only seven feet high and afford no privacy.

This is my fourteenth trip to Haiti as a volunteer pediatrician. My twenty-fifth patient of the morning is a three-month-old infant named Joceylyn Marquee, who is completely swaddled

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What Did the Doctor Say?

Charlotte Grinberg ~

Here’s what they should have told you: “We found cancer in your lymph nodes, your liver, your lungs and your brain. It explains your weight loss, your difficulty breathing and your loss of appetite. This wasn’t just your depression, like you thought. It started in your lungs, and now it’s everywhere. This cancer has been growing for quite some time. You cannot, even with the strongest medications and the longest surgeries,

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Tucking Him In

Peggy Murphy ~

I need to see Justin before my workday commences. I’m a social worker at the outpatient cancer center where Justin has been treated for an aggressive colon cancer.

Seeing him today means visiting him in the hospital, up the road from the center.

It’s almost surreal.

When I first met Justin, nearly two years ago, he looked every bit the linebacker–well over six feet tall, with a girth

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