On your own terms

How would you like to die?

Peacefully? On your own terms? Is there dignity in early retirement, so to speak? Or does the dignity lie in the struggle, the fight to the very last gasp?

“Look at me.” I knew not to look. “How would you like to die?”

I doubled back without realizing. Sensing my surprise, my attending broke eye contact with the patient and returned my stare. Three seconds felt like an eternity.

“How,” there was a brief pause in his cadence, “would you,” another one, “like to die?”

He enunciated every syllable. There would be no doubt in his words, no question in his intent. He was soft, understanding, and at once cold, so cold, and calculated, and firm. Continue reading “On your own terms”

Hospital Omelet

Ms. B gently asked me if I could cut her omelet into bite-size pieces. I gingerly handled the plastic knife and sliced into the delicate hospital-made omelet. I made three expert pieces, straight-walled and contained. Bacon bits spilled out of the first one, but it was an edge piece. It’s not my fault. The other two pieces held up nicely, the glossy spinach densely packed in between the warm folds of egg. I admired my handiwork. The J.D. in me began to romanticize: maybe I was meant to be a surgeon after all. But Dr. Cox interrupted. “Bite-size, Sami.” I looked at the plate. My resident was right. I eat like a giraffe. Most others don’t. Ms. B laughed as I cut the continent-sized pieces into thirds and turned her omelet into scrambled eggs, which she explicitly did not order.

The next day, she was set for discharge. Her transportation was due at 4 pm. It was 2 pm now. We had rounded earlier in the morning and finalized her paperwork, prescriptions, and orders. I wanted to catch her one more time. Continue reading “Hospital Omelet”

Embrace

After what felt like a relatively good day in OBGYN clinic — no new cancer diagnoses, no particularly life-threatening pathologies — I followed my attending to the women’s hospital entrance, the elevators, and to the eleventh floor. The door stood slightly ajar as though the patient expected us to round this late in the day. We peeked inside.

She was bundled neatly under two or three off-white linens that did a rather good job of concealing the tangle of wires and lines that hung from her arms. Her husband sat at her bedside. He bore a striking resemblance to an actor whose name was on the tip of my tongue.

Continue reading “Embrace”