Dr. Lucy Kalanithi said, “We’re at this weird point in history where we have all this technology and the impulse is to keep using it, even if it’s at times creating more suffering” (Prompt). As a future surgeon, I truly believed, and still do believe, that innovation and technology progresses the world we live in today. Creativity in robotics reshapes the way surgeries are performed and improves precision to increase effectiveness. How do surgeons define effectiveness though? To a surgeon, being effective is to perform a surgery with the least complications. To the family of a patient though, being effective is saving a life … actually it is to cure a life. The notion is that if there are more advanced methods of operation being used, then the patient has a higher chance of living. This notion creates a false hope within the families of patients and causes not only the patient to suffer, but also the families, when the turn out isn’t as expected.
These questions and thoughts never ran through my mind before partaking in the Hospice Program. I have always been privileged enough to never experience death in my life and have never encountered it first hand. My patient and I were friends since the first day, and a month till the Hospice program. I did not even fathom that I would look forward to seeing her every Sunday. She became part of my routine … every aspect of her … her drool dipped hand motioning to me for a napkin … the crinkling of her eyebrows every time she complained about her sister … and the way her eyes lit up every time I brought her a new cat video to watch.
After I found out she was in surgery, I walked into the care center differently. I had to swallow the fact that I would not see her again and it was a numbing feeling. In the beginning of the program, I walked in without a care in the world. I volunteered for the resume. I volunteered for the hours. I volunteered for selfish reasons. My patient taught me … or re-taught me … what a caregiver is supposed to be. I’m pre-med, but what does that even mean? Does pre-med mean a resume full of honors and awards, or does it mean putting yourself before your patient?
My patient leaving me in a sense was the reality check I needed. I needed to step back and look at what service I was actually providing. Every time she complained about her family, I always thought about how ungrateful she was, but never thought to think that was her way of saying thank you to me. I was her only friend because she was significantly more aware compared to the rest of the patients.
The program itself prepared me for future scenarios I would be facing, because hope is what makes us human, but it is also what keeps us from reality. It is important to teach families what Kalanithi emphasizes in her interview, “We agreed that life is not about avoiding suffering.” “It’s about creating meaning.” The goal of a terminally ill patient should not to be a game to see how long life can be prolonged. It is truly about making each day less of a burden so that the end could be just as lighthearted as the journey.