not as simple

two of my long-term patients died this week. one was a young woman who had a stroke and eventually succumbed to complications from her chronically recumbent state. the other was a teenage girl with advanced cancer. i watched them slowly deteriorate despite our very best efforts. they both died malnourished, emaciated and wholly dependent on others for nursing care.

it’s not my place to decide who deserves aggressive resuscitation and who gets to go peacefully. my opinions have nothing to do with the care of the patient. my job is to give them my everything. but i wanted to cry as i gave orders to the resuscitation team to pump one of the patients with drugs and continue chest compressions. i felt like she didn’t deserve to die in pain. i wanted to stop and let her leave us in peace…but it wasn’t my place to do so.

not for the first time in my career, i wanted to ask for a vial of morphine and help her slip away.

so which patient was it? the answer’s not as simple as you think. doctors sometimes do emotionally-driven things. once, a team of neurosurgeons operated on a man with severe brain injury and possibly brain death just because he was young and they felt he deserved a chance. it’s not easy at all.

i don’t think anyone ever gets desensitised to death. every patient means something to me, and if i feel that way i’m sure all my colleagues do too.


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