Sometimes my day is like a book. The first chapter may begin in the darkness of a self imposed corner as a phone call is made. A voice, full with the thickness of slumber, answers unexpectedly.
“I think today is the day.”
No matter how many years I have been discussing death I still find myself using poor euphemisms. The bane of medical school teaching, I often struggle with the directness. “Your mother will die today.” So cold. So hard to muster the courage and keep one’s voice strong and confident. I used to shy away from such dire predictions. I no longer do. Better to tell prematurely than not at all.
I pick up my stethoscope and jacket and move on to the next room, the next hospital, the next home. And the memory of the fading elderly woman falls into the recesses of my mind. These days are so full, the plot so complex, that plans are made, thoughts are compartmentalized. Family called (check), Roxanol and Ativan written for (check), DNR/do not hospitalize (check). There is nothing more I can do.
The next stop may be a hospital. Where a leg is broken, or saliva aspirated, or hearts fail. The clicks of the computer keyboard is accompanied by the ringing of phones. Family meetings are carried out in hush tones in corners or conference rooms. The rise and fall of a chest, a sigh.
I have an octogenarian to visit at home. He just returned from the hospital after a pneumonia. He still needed a few more days but was afraid to leave his wife alone. Her memory is not as good as it used to be. She had never stayed by herself before. Fifty years of marriage and she had never slept without him by her side.
Work life quickly intermingles with personal. I pick up the kids at their grandparents as I absentmindedly squawk into the blue tooth. Most days there is some activity. Violin, tennis, or Spanish. The phone calls pepper my afternoon and evening. At some point we find time for dinner. Maybe a short jog with the family or a long walk. Have you ever seen a jogger talking on his mobile? That was probably me answering a page.
I might take a quick shower before bed or watch some TV. My phone almost always goes off when I am in the shower. Almost always.
Around ten, I climb the stairs to the bedroom. After brushing my teeth and hobbling into bed the phone buzzes one last time. It’s the nursing home. The prophecy from the beginning of my day has come true. I give my condolences to the daughter and turn off the lights. I can’t sleep.
It’s like a book, you see? There is a beginning. Then a muddled and twisted middle that almost makes you forget. But everything comes full circle eventually. I put my head down and jerkily fade into sleep.
The end of one’s day.
The end of another’s days.
Jordan Grumet is an internal medicine physician who blogs at In My Humble Opinion.