Wednesday, June 23, 2004


One of my patients died yesterday after rotting away in the ICU for the past 83 days. The pity in this situation lies not because his family deserted him in the ICU to die, for in fact the opposite was true. They stayed by his side during his entire hospital stay. It's just that his family was unrealistic and in denial. Despite my brutally honest updates on his condition, they refused to believe the degree of his illness. Neither his gangrenous limbs, friable skin, or declining function was enough to convince them. It was only after his wife saw me pounding away on his chest, pushing medicines through his IV's, and shocking him every few minutes in a vain attempt to resuscitate this poor creature, that she finally opened her eyes to the truth.

"He's all I've got left, Doctor. Do all that you can."

That's what she would say to me every day. They've been married for 60 years, she'd say. They've spent every day together since they've been married. And she had not left her husband's side during the last 83 days. And every day when I would tell her that her husband showed no progression in his recovery, she'd pat my hand, tell me that God is on their side, and for me to do the best I can. This bizarre ritual went on for days, until yesterday when my patient, her husband, went into cardiac arrest.

There's nothing as sickening as the feeling of ribs cracking under your palms as you compress a person's chest. Or watching a man's eyes develop vacant stares as life slowly leaves the body behind. Or the sudden realization that the chest under your palms is now cold.

I think the wife eventually saw this as well, and found courage to let him go. My patient died at 10:20am, Tuesday.