A medical student’s first patient

He could not stand
Legs weak from the wasting effects of a cruel disease
Stripping him of his manhood
Denying him his future

He could not eat
His mouth cracked and dry
Saliva having made an untimely exit from his personhood
Unable to return again

He could no longer dream
He would say
As I stared at him
Longing to do more than hope that his pain patch
Would lessen the pain of not just dying but of knowing one is dying.

When he slept his eyes would remain slightly ajar
Almost peering into my soul
Reminding me of the fleetingness of life
The forgivable agony of impending death
The unapproachable nature of a life hard fought

He was and is my first patient
My first true friend
My first true confidant

Through him — a lesson more valuable than gold was achieved in my young mind
The power of persistence
The everlasting jolt that hopes brings to an awakened soul
The belief that medicine may not have all the answers but answers all

I saw in him bits of myself
The way he would smile
Hold his head up
And whisper barely audible short phrases that became our one-word language

I began to study him
To figure out his quirks
To unmask his fears
To face his reality with him, that hope and medicine can persist in the face of incredible odds

His mood surprised me
His stance captivated me
His body wasting away from inoperable cancer burrowed images in my mind that I can not shake

No one is prepared for their first patient, I have come to believe
Their first patient that dies
That dies intimately
That is intimately connected to them

As I left the center, the last time I saw him
Something in me hoped, prayed, dared to dream, that I would see him again

I would visit if he was still there
I would show my face
I would not hide from the fear that seemed to overwhelm me in the moment
I would face his reality with him

For he was my father and my first patient

Linda Ataifo is a medical student.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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