She was an ICU downgrade. Hospice care is what they told me. We added her name to our list, and my senior resident told me she was now my patient. I did not have a clear story. Sepsis? Complications? The ICU note was lengthy. Rounds were coming up, and I needed to see all my patients.
I went into her room. She was breathing slow. Oxygen saturation dipping. Unconscious. I asked the nurse about the patient. She did not know much. Comfort care is all I knew. I listened with my stethoscope and heard the coarse and forced breath sounds. I analyzed the vitals. It looked like the time would be soon.
A behavioral crisis was then called. The patient involved was another on my list. I had to handle that now. Was it even 9 a.m.?
When that was resolved, nursing notified my team. My patient from the ICU had passed away.
“Call the brother,” my senior resident told me.
Time of death 9:41 a.m.
I barely knew the patient. They had just been downgraded to us. I did not know the story. Am I the right person to call the family?
“Call the brother.”
I grabbed the phone. I scanned the chart and searched the internet seeking the right words to say.
What was I doing?
What would I want to hear if this was my sibling?
Just be a human.
I called the brother.
They say it gets easier.
I have been told you become numb.
Maybe, the first phone call is the worst. I’m not sure.
It feels a bit polarizing. To tell the world of a death and then move on and put in another patient’s diet orders. I knew this patient for a few minutes. I did not know her story.
What I do know is this: I had the privilege of being the last one to care for her, even if it was only for a moment.
Nicholas Bellacicco is a neurology resident.
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