Love and Dying

My patient is a wonderful Indian Hindi woman who is passionate about her culture, her faith, and her family. She is extremely honest – some could even say she is hard to please. The relationship I had with her brought about something special. By the third or fourth visit she smiled when she saw me walk in. After a few months, she would constantly remind me that she loves and appreciates me, which is something I will never forget.
The instance that made the largest impact on me was when she had a harsh cold, and was in the worst condition I had ever seen her in. I just held her hand for an hour as she struggled to breathe, slipping into and out of sleep. I thought… that’s it. She’s going to die soon. My heart swelled with emotion as I held her hand and felt her grip tighten and loosen repeatedly. It was almost as if death was trying to decide whether or not to take her. However, after two weeks, she recovered and was back in her wheelchair watching Indian TV.
From the experiences I’ve had over the past few months, I’ve learned a lot. I’ve learned that each patient is different. Each patient’s situation is different. But difference is what makes true relationships beautiful. Experiencing the world of hospice care and being a part of my patient’s dying process, even if minimally, has affected me deeply by showing me the importance of the well-being and comfort of a dying patient – physically, emotionally, and spiritually. It has taught me the importance of relationships. By reminiscing about memories and stories of her family and friends, she showed me what life is about – sharing love with one another. Despite her hardened exterior, which many people took to be rudeness, I saw so much love in her. I have learned that these initial perceptions and stereotypes should not define a patient’s worth and value as human beings. By getting to know her and finding a deep connection, I was able to see her as a person with the same fears and emotions when facing death as any other. She cried to me once about her loneliness and fear of abandonment, exposing to me her pure humanity.
The most important thing I have learned is that death is something to be embraced. This has influenced my future career by giving me the clinical tools to connect with patients from every walk of life. Visiting my patient allowed me to practice virtue and to foster love and trust every day. I recently read a book written by Daniel Sulmasy entitled, The Rebirth of the Clinic. In it, he says that all human beings desire unconditional love. That is why end-of-life care is so difficult. We must provide love so that when they leave this earth, it is a good death. I have learned that to be in the medical profession, especially in end-of-life care, one must be abundantly compassionate and self-effacing. And for this reason, I am incredibly thankful for the experience.