Death does not come easy to me. I don’t think it should for anyone, but as a future doctor I know that I death is something I will be experiencing time and time again. I believe that most doctors aren’t comfortable with death. Talking about death and dealing with a dying patient is hard. It is harder for doctors because many of us become doctors to prevent death. I used to believe that being good doctor meant that we would do everything in our power to save our patients. And I used to believe that saving our patients only meant that we would make sure they didn’t die.
I joined the Season’s Hospice program because I knew that as a future doctor I would have to become comfortable with death – to a point. I don’t think I will ever truly become comfortable with the loss of another life, but I have gained important tools necessary to talk about death to both patients and their families. But from this experience I have also learned that preventing death is not the only way to save the lives of our patients. I learned that sometimes the role of a good doctor is to just be there and listen. To listen to the pains of the families and ultimately listen to what the patient truly wants. Sometimes there is nothing we can do to prevent a loss. And though it should be obvious because just as life has a beginning it also has an end, it is not something we can easily accept. I learned that sometimes the best thing a doctor can do is offer a patient dignity to die peacefully. Sometimes it’s not about the latest treatments and procedures. Sometimes it is just offering a person the ability to be with loved ones and enjoy their last few days as much as possible.
My experience with the Season’s Hospice Program is one that was a little different from my peers. The patient I was visiting suffered from dementia. He had trouble holding conversations, he felt nervous around me, and most of the time he wanted to go to sleep. The beginning was very hard for me. I didn’t know what to do, or how to interact with him. I tried communicating and reading to him, but it seemed nothing was really working. I began to feel discouraged and that I wasn’t helping him at all.
I went in to the hospice program hoping to make a difference, and I always thought that making a difference was done with only grand gestures. I didn’t feel like I was doing this with my patient. So I thought I would talk to my Season’s coordinator, asking for advice on how to communicate with my patient. And I learned that sometimes all I needed to do was just be there as a comforting presence. Spending time with my patient meant that someone would always be there for him. It meant that his wife, who stayed with him, had time to go play bingo with the other residents. Although it may not seem like a lot, I learned that just being there is all we can offer someone in this stage of their lives.