My relationship with mortality

I wasn’t assigned a patient during the program, but I did still learn a lot by talking with the volunteer manager and by engaging with the materials sent out each week. Something meaningful that happened to me is that while progressing through the program, I find myself more comfortable with the idea of mortality and spirituality.

I used to think that having a patient pass away is considered a failure. If you are the doctor and you have to let go of the patient, you are at fault no matter what. Similarly, this “failure” becomes associated with your career and this case becomes a data point instead of a story about a real human. I used to think that in order for me to do a good job as a doctor, death is something that I need to “overcome”, and there is no other way of framing this experience. I wasn’t at all familiar with the concept of hospice, and didn’t think it would relate to me in any way. However, when I started engaging with the concept more, I came to the realization that sometimes patients willingly make this decision for themselves. Sometimes, they make the decision of forgoing treatment as it only worsens the rest of their time on this planet. It does not reflect anyone’s defeat, but rather making an informed decision about how you take charge of your experience and priorities.

I also used to think that a doctor can only engage with patients in a “professional” manner, meaning one devoid of any emotional reaction and closeness with the patient. I used to think that one shouldn’t overly involve themselves in a patient’s case unless it is to provide a solution to the problem. Through this hospice program it made me realize that compassion and empathy are just as important as problem solving in a doctor’s career. Through compassion, I can understand a patient more and provide better care oriented towards their goals. They should have the say and have agency to decide what they want, and be respected for their choices.

I also came to peace with my own mortality throughout this program. This is really personal, but I believe understanding the limitations of being a human helps me to live my day-to-day better. I have always been interested in exploring the boundaries between human and machine, and how technological advances may impact our life expectancy and the idea of self. I am still definitely very open to exploring this, but I realized that I have been neglecting myself and not living my life to the fullest. After becoming more comfortable with mortality and accepting my body as my temple, I want to focus on caring for myself and people around me to live a fulfilling life. I started to accept pain and impermanence as part of being human, especially after undergoing my own surgery recently.

Overall, this program helped me to become a more compassionate individual. This will translate into my care for my patients and the broader community I am serving, by putting them first and foremost when making key decisions in their treatment.