In Memorium

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What if your doctor told you that you had 3 months to live? What would you do in the time you had left? My patient faced that challenge. I visited with her several times a week. Each time we met we were very much aware of the ticking clock. She needed time to work through the stages of grief that Elizabeth Kubler-Ross describes in her books on dying. Three months isn’t a very long time for all that.

My patient often talked about the turbulence that was going on inside of her. There were so many practical, even superficial, issues to deal with while she was trying to cope with the terminal prognosis she was given. She wondered how she tell her sisters that she was dying? She and her sisters weren’t that close but she wanted to be the one to tell them. Should she go to the dentist and get a bothersome tooth fixed? She needed a new coat to fit her body that was wasting away from disease. She asked me if I thought she should get one. All the details of everyday life were now seen through the eyes of a dying woman. She still planned and cooked meals for her family, walked her dog, and did the wash.

I saw her getting weaker. A month passed. I wanted her days to be filled with everything that was important to her. When weekend’s came and her family was home from work and school, I encouraged her to do something special with them. Sometimes illness though, even a terminal one, doesn’t always bring people closer. She yearned for warm intimate times with the people she loved but often the times she had with them were touched by conflict. So she shopped and cleaned and put up new curtains.

The last day I visited her was about two weeks ago. She wasn’t feeling too good that day. I took her vital signs as usual. We talked about her symptoms. I assured her that I would call her doctor to see what he recommended. She ended up being admitted to the hospital the next day.

Today is Sunday. My patient died yesterday. She didn’t have three months after all. The time she had was spent doing things that brought her comfort. She bravely balanced the tragic in her life with the mundane. My life has been touched by many special people and she is one of them.

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