April 1st, 2008

Nescafe rabbit

Paliative Care Service

The man with no spine died the other night. One hour he was sleeping, the next hour he wasn't breathing. The nurse had the presence of mind not to call a code. just like that.
Path isn't back, that I've seen. But at least it was peaceful. Painless, at the end.

Four doors down is a woman whose lungs are polka-dotted with metastases from her uterine cancer. We see the cancer cells in her lab work, in the elevated creatinine and poorly-synthesized clotting factors. Somewhere in her belly is a pinhole leak that brought her to our emergency department in excruciating pain.
She is dying, all 80 pounds of her, with antibiotics running in to stave off the infection, a unit of blood now and then, her family passing in and out of the room. Who knows how long she will linger?

My rounds on her are brief, quiet. Necessary interruptions in her dying process. She smiles when I come in, answers my questions with her Virginia hills twang so thick I can barely understand her. "Doin' awright. Better today." And I do not know what to say. We discuss the price of gas, the snow, the hospital. My job.
I am secretly glad to leave the room, if I am honest. I feel awkward and graceless and dumb with not knowing what to say to her. I cannot fix her, cannot heal her. She is at peace with dying but wants to prolong life while she can, and so here she is - and here I am. There is nothing more to do but wait.