Two weeks ago I told a man that he was dying. We sat together in the mid afternoon haze. Puffs of snow meandered by the hospital window and wended their way down to the ground. The sun was lost behind winter’s never ending clouds.
The tempo of my voice was steady, lacking variation in tenor and pitch. I clung to my lab coat as if I was floating outside the window and being blasted by the inclement conditions.
I waited coldly for a response. At first, he stared at me quizzically. His eyes asked so many questions but his lips remained still. He shook his head and sighed. I glanced above him at the ticking clock.
You’re wrong. It’s not my time yet!
Two days ago I entered the same room. I watched as my patients chest heaved up and down slowly. His laborious breathing like spikes piercing the insides of his family members. They sat somberly around his bed in a circle.
It won’t be long now.
As the words slithered out, I realized that I failed to convey the proper warmth. My voice box robotic and stale. The phrase lost in a haze of familiarity.
Two minutes ago I pronounced him dead. The room still heavy with doubt and false expectations. The social workers and case managers huddle around the family as funeral plans are made.
And in two days, I will call his wife. I will express my condolences and ask if there is anything I can do.
Then, most likely, I will never speak to her again.
Two weeks from now I will tell a man he is going to die. He will sit calmly in my exam room as he shifts his weight from side to side. Although his hair has grayed and his body has weakened, his face will sparkle with youth and vibrance.
He’ll stare deeply into my eyes and I’ll detect a hint of mirth.
We’re all dying my friend.
He will draw in a deep breath and put his hand on my shoulder.
The trick is learning how to live.
Jordan Grumet is an internal medicine physician who blogs at In My Humble Opinion.
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