Monday, June 04, 2007

Death close up

I know I am not the first to comment on this, but for me it is a relatively new experience to see death close up. In these past five years working at the hospital, I have visited patients who were close to death and have spent some of their final hours with them. Before working here, I would have imagined that such an experience would have made me feel, at a minimum, awkward, but more likely extremely uncomfortable. I am sure I would have been afraid of doing or saying something "wrong". In short, I had a very self-centered view -- thinking mainly of my own discomfort -- and I avoided those circumstances.

Once taking this job, I considered it part of my responsibility to visit patients at all stage of their treatments, including the final stages. Instead of the expected discomfort, I have found these moments to be stunningly freeing and beautiful, notwithstanding the tragedy of the situation. The people who have given me the privilege of their company during such times have been open, honest, warm, funny, and even cheerful. Maybe it is still very self-centered on my part to say so, but they have confided in me in a way that leaves me both honored and humbled.

I write this in thanks to them and their families for the chance to be part of this very, very intimate human experience.


Betsy B. said...

Being with someone while they are dying, and more importantly, helping them transition is one of the most rewarding and humbling experiences I have ever been a part of as well. Keep up the visits!! They mean a lot to people.

Anonymous said...

This is beautifully written! I have learned that Americans do not do well with feelings-their own or being in the company of others who are grieving or experiencing an end of life journey where feelings and emotions are rampant. They are afraid, not only of what to say but what they will feel themselves. It's really OK to cry.

It is so important for those making quality and patient centered decisions to let their "in control" guard down a bit and experience real life and death experiences as you have. One could learn so much by sitting with a patient or family watching a loved one slip away. Perhaps, they would understand the devastation and loss of connection that one feels. Or, perhaps they would feel that peace and humbling.

I have a quote on my desk,"Courage is not the lack of fear, it is acting in spite of it." Hold a few hands and you will understand the need for gentleness. It's not about getting soft but in getting real.

Anonymous said...

Well said, Paul. Being a part of that type of situation is indeed humbling, fulfilling and a privilege, which is why I am part of BIDMC's palliative care vigil volunteer program (to sit with dying patients who are alone). Thank you for caring so much.