Death & Dying

Throughout this year, I have visited two different patients. The first one, Ian, was easy to talk to. We were able to connect through conversations we had and activities we could do together. The second patient I visited, Jessica, was a very different experience, because dementia limited the ability for us to hold a conversation. Our relationship was meaningful nonetheless, because I learned to read her nonverbal cues as well as the limited things that she said. At first, it was difficult to tell if I was connecting with her at all. I used the memory book and would read to her because she seemed at peace at the sound of my voice. I eventually could tell I was making a difference because the look on her face at the end of my visit would be much calmer than it was before I came. Furthermore, I learned to appreciate her lucid moments and make the most of every interaction. I can still remember how happy I was when she remembered me for the first time. This relationship showed me to appreciate any milestone that she had and to cherish any time that she was able to converse.

Overall, my entire hospice experience has allowed me to grow as a person and as a potential doctor. First and foremost, it has made me a better listener. When people are dying, everything they say becomes more important. However, I have also learned that the words they say only tell part of the story. Observing is much more than just hearing. Context or tone can alter the meaning of the words, body language enhances the words, and often, what is left unsaid is also important. This enhanced listening has shown me how to connect with people who are very different than me. On top of that, it has shown me that there is an element of dying that I will never know until I am actually the one going through the experience.

I feel better prepared for my future of medicine due to this hospice experience because it has given me a better perspective of the death and dying experience. Above all, I have seen the fear associated with dying. It takes different forms. Sometimes, as in the case of Jessica, the patient will actually tell you about the fear; every now and then, Jessica would turn to me and tell me she was scared or wanted to go home. In other cases, though, fear can be the fear of getting close to people when you know you do not have much time with them, as was the case with Ian. With this fear, though, I have also learned that companionship is incredibly important to patients experiencing dying. Even though I could not completely eliminate the fear from these patients’ lives, I could at least temporarily relieve some stress and offer emotional comfort. On top of everything, though, I learned that everyone handles death differently. I will inevitably cross death again in my medical path and I must acknowledge that not every patient will act in the same way as the patients I have met and I must be able to adapt to whatever situation I face.