The 5 People You Meet In Hospice (Pt. 1)

Though death is a difficult topic to discuss, one that people often shy away from, it is as much a part of healthcare as life. As a student hoping to join the medical field after graduation, an obvious goal of mine is to be able to treat others and improve their health – to prolong their life. However, one of the most important things that I’ve learned is that life is fragile and while we want it to be a remedy, we can’t expect it to be a panacea. Medicine has its limits and death is unavoidable; issues begin to arise when we forget this and allow death to come as a surprise. Being exposed to death in the realest way has been an invaluable experience that has prepared me for what to expect in the future.
Throughout this program, I have had 5 patients. Though I feel as if I learned something from each one, the one patient that I spent the least time with had actually left the greatest impact. I had been assigned the patient the week before winter break. I had actually planned to go home directly after my last test and save my first visit for after break. However, I decided to stay an extra day to make that visit. Normally, first visits with patients can be difficult while the two parties are working to get comfortable. This wasn’t the case with this patient. She was very warm and very open about her cancer, her family, and her life in general. Though I only intended to stay for an hour, the visit ending up being closer to two. Time just flew as we talked about the hardships she faced growing up as a single mother after her husband passed away early. We talked about the magnificent works of art she had hanging in her room which she painted in her youth. We talked about her children and their situations. In the short amount of time I was with her, I felt like I learned so much about who she was. When it was time for me to go, I told her that I wouldn’t be back for a couple of weeks, but that I truly looked forward to our next visit.
When I came back after break, I called Seasons just to make sure the patient was still available for visits. What I found out was that she had died the day after our meeting. I was in shock. She was still able to move on her own and seemed to be in relatively good health given her condition. It was inexplicable to me that life could be so fragile; that someone could just be gone in an instant without a moment’s notice. What really terrified me was how much it could hurt to lose someone who you had only known for two hours. My mistake was forgetting that death was inevitable and why I was there in the first place – to provide companionship to a dying woman. What I realized is that while we can hope for the best, we cannot expect medicine to be a cure.
This hospice program has very clearly changed my perspective on death. While it was initially something to fear, I realize now that it is as natural as life itself. I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to participate in this program and will continue to carry the lessons with me in my pursuit of medical school.