Wednesday, January 4, 2012

A Gift To The Dying

The photo was more for my benefit then hers. The ninety five year old woman staring at me through the frame was completely blind. She wouldn't be able to enjoy it. Yet she had her young companion bring a camera to the visit. We snapped the shot, and two weeks later she walked in with a beautifully framed picture. It would be our last visit before she died.

I studied my own face. Had it been a full decade? My features were softer, my hair thicker. I glowed with an innocence that has long since faded. As I contemplated my growth as a physician, I struggled to remember her name. My face burned with embarrassment and then settled with a heavy sense of guilt.

So much had been gained over the last couple of years, and so much lost.


I have watched hundreds of patients die. I start each journey with a full emotional tank of gas. But as time passes, complications arise, and fuel is consumed at an ever rapid pace. As we reach the finish line, I often feel like I'm existing on fumes.

And when the death certificate is signed, and condolences are given to the family, I run on empty. Of course the tank refills with each and every new patient that walks through the door. But the truth is, my endurance is limited to one fill per customer.

So as time goes by, I often forget details. Names and diagnosis slip through my clenched hands like sands in the hour glass. But themes remain. Love, fear, rapture, joy, and connectedness permeate my soul and affect the person that I have become.


When I look at the decade old picture, I realize that my patient was giving me one last gift before she died. As the memories flood back the details become more concrete.

I may not remember her name, but I can tell her story.

I can tell their stories.

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