Wednesday, January 04, 2006


I watched Patient T as she lay in her hospital bed dying from her colon cancer. Her room was void and empty, except for a small vase holding a lonely handful of flowers placed in the corner of her room. If you weren't paying attention, you might even miss Patient T, whose pale skin and white hair nearly matched the bleak white walls of her room and the weathered sheets on her bed. The only thing with color to it was the monitor, which dutifully traced her ever-dwindling heartbeat, and her IV machines with their multicolored lights.

I didn't know much about Patient T's past, her accomplishments, her failures, her moments of joy or those of sadness. As I changed services from one surgical group to another, I took over the role of the previous surgical resident, "inheriting" his previous patients to take care of as my own. With this transfer of services, only the crucial elements of patient care gets transmitted from one resident to another: the immediate past medical history, the surgical history, the recent events of the past several days and the medical treatment planned for the next several days. The little nuances and pieces of the patient's other history are lost during this transfer.

I knew little about this lady, other than that her situation was terminal, and that the family had become more difficult to reach as her hospital stay lengthened. And now with Patient T at her last moments, her family was nowhere to be seen.

I looked at Patient T. I couldn't think of a more desolate feeling than dying alone. To end your journey through this world deserted and forgotten. My heart lay heavy with sorrow.

I stood at the doorway, leaning against the frame, watching her heartbeat become weaker and slower, until she eventually died. Alone.

I paused for a minute, then walked in, pronounced her, and walked back out to start on her paperwork.