Tuesday, October 12, 2004


We visited the Branford Hospice today. Having spent so much of my childhood hanging out in nursing homes, and that summer in England at the Sir Michael Sobell House Hospice, I thought today would be boring. You know, "been there, done that". I've thought about death plenty. Too much, if you ask me.

But the truth is, I haven't been back to a hospice as a medical student. So I never *really* thought about what it would mean to be any of these patients' doctor. And, I never knew as much about the sometimes excruciating, senseless process of disease and dying as I know now after a year of medical school and the family illnesses that have since appeared.

We spent most of the time talking to a friendly, highly cultured lady who has been around the world and back many times over. Mrs. M was sitting up in a chair, chatting with us about the election. She's already filled out her absentee ballot, and is determined to stay alive to see Kerry elected. She looks no less healthy than your average 84-year-old, and she has an incredibly wide perspective on life, the sum of both her long life experience and her amazing life experiences in diplomacy and the FBI.

Saying goodbye to Mrs. M felt almost too cheery. Something was amiss. This is not what we came for--to continue to deny the reality of death. Doesn't she have esophageal cancer? But she seemed so...hopeful and positive. The reality, our preceptor conveyed to us with a "it's too bad, but..." expression as we pulled the curtain back around, is that she probably won't make it to election day.

As we turned to leave, I glanced at the woman lying in the bed across from Mrs. M. There was no curtain giving her privacy. She gave us That Look as we walked past. That Look of wheelchair and bedbound patients at hospitals and nursing homes everywhere. I've seen it hundreds of times, but usually I just feel guilty. This time, I was struck by something new: fear. The devastation of losing control.

I suddenly felt the impotence of lying frail in a bed wet with stale urine, mouth dry from thirst, wanting to die but frustratingly holding on. After a long, full life, that is could end like...like this. How awful. No one deserves that kind of farewell. Everyone deserves the going away party Ed had in "Big Fish."


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