My Time with “Sally”

I had the pleasure of spending an hour with Sally nearly every Sunday from October through April. Although Sally initially seemed indifferent to my visits, she warmed to me overtime. By December, Sally remembered me between visits and would smile upon my arrival. After winter break, when I hadn’t seen her for a full month, Sally was disappointed that I had missed so many visits. She inquired about where I was the past month but was happy to see that I was back.
I was very surprised by how much life was visible in Sally, even when her condition began to deteriorate. At the beginning of our visits in particular, it was clear that mentally she was more aware than I had originally thought. She had an incredible sense of humor and what the nurses called a “feisty” personality.
This program has had an effect on me that it emphasized the importance of spending time with people who are sick and don’t have the energy to do very much during the day. Although Sally’s family visits her on occasion, she has remarked that she wished she was able to see them more often, even though she knows that they are busy. No matter how much work I have, I can always find time to spend one hour with Sally a week; taking this time out of my schedule is negligible to me but means a lot to Sally.
This program has also given me a different perception of death. I have learned that if someone is given enough time to say goodbye and is able to die comfortably after a long life, then people will die contentedly when they are ready. Although death is a loss and always tragic, there are better ways to die and it will be my responsibility as a doctor to ensure that my patient receives the death that he/she wants.
This program has impacted my understanding of medicine and I have seen the value in palliative care. Prior to this experience, I thought that the doctor’s most important job was to keep the patient alive no matter what and the patient’s death indicated a failure on behalf of the doctor. I now realize that this is a complete misunderstanding. This popular conception has actually harmed the current practice of medicine and doctors tend to overestimate how many years their patient has left by 500%. In addition to keeping the patient alive, the doctor must ensure that the patient is comfortable and at ease during his/her remaining time.