Monday, February 11, 2008

The Human Spirit

I went to a viewing tonight.

My patient was 15 and he died Friday, almost 2 years after his bone marrow transplant. He died of complications of the transplant that cured his leukemia.

I go to as many of my patients’ viewings as I can. I prefer them to funerals, because there is more opportunity for interaction. It gives me and the family a chance to say goodbye and a chance to talk about what we’ve been through, and it gives me the chance to see something of the child’s life outside of the hospital.

I remember the first viewing I went to. The patient was 20, and her 2 year old daughter was there. So was her father, an army veteran, tough as nails, crying on my shoulder. I didn’t know what to say. I can’t remember what I said. I just know we hugged and cried together.

It doesn’t get any easier, and I still don’t know what to say.

It still amazes me that in the midst of dealing with such a terrible tragedy, parents try to comfort me. I’m used to being the one doing the comforting. But on these occasions, we comfort each other. And it helps. Sometimes words aren’t necessary. It’s the act of being there, holding each other, and supporting each other that counts. Sometimes, words don’t matter -- the human spirit matters.


Dee said...

I love that you go to as many as you can. I think, that connection, the fact that you're there, really there for the family is an amazing thing. It's incredibly important.

Loss never gets easier, in fact, I think it actually get's harder every time. And I know that as soon as it starts to get easier, something is seriously wrong. It should never be easy, it should always be tough but there's in it.

The last paragraph, is just dead on.

Doctor David said...

Dee.... thank you.

rlbates said...

Nice post. I feel that way about viewings/funerals in general. If the parents of an old classmate or distant cousin dies, then I try to go to the viewing (and if I can) and skip the funeral. My reasons are much the same. I can visit more with the family, more stories are told, there is laughter with the tears.

Doctor David said...

Thanks. Last night, I had the chance to look through photo albums with my patient's father. I saw his birth announcement, and watched him grow up. Sadly, there is rarely time to do that while rounding in the hospital or seeing the patient in clinic (and they don't bring their baby pictures with them even if there WAS time).

Kathleen Blanchard said...

Doctor David,
Your presence with the family means much. I know how you feel. It isn't easy, and it's true that there never words.

DermDoc said...

Dr David:
What you do is not only admirable, but difficult.

Although rewarding in some ways, wakes can be painful and you have to be willing to give your time and (emotional) energy to attend. You are a great example for many of us.

Elizabeth Munroz said...

Your being able to attend the wake appeals to me for several reasons. First, of course, it gives the family solace to know you really care, and are more than a doctor. (So many have a stereotype that doctors aren't entirely human.) Then, you get to have some closure around the issue. Two years is an investment of your time, energy, hopes and dreams that maybe, just maybe, this time there will be a cure. Then watching the patient struggle to survive and doing everything in your power to help have the patient cured, but die of something else, has got to leave a mark on your heart! Going to the memorial seems like a necessity to heal your self from the disappointment of losing him.

Joy Logan said...

What a caring Doc you are! I am hoping to find some before it's too late. What a field to be in with those poor kids who have so much of life to still witness. I am getting more tests to find out about my lethargy. It may be the thyroid thingie,huh?

Doctor David said...

Joy, thanks for your kind words. Yes, thyroid disease is one of the causes of lethargy. I hope they find out what's wrong. Thyroid wouldn't be a bad diagnosis... it's easy to fix!

Anonymous said...

I don't think I have ever heard of a more caring doctor. I strive to be a doctor as caring and as thoughtful as you. I hope to become a Pediatric Oncologist and Johns Hopkins is my University of choice. (I'll be seeing you there!!)