The first day of my hospice visit, my colleague and I left feeling unsettled. As we walked out, we discussed how bizarre it was to think that the end point of each patient we saw was for their death. I noted how it almost seemed like the opposite of what we do every day in medicine - we are so focused on preserving life, lengthening it, and here the focus was the end of life. My colleague pointed out that it was still caring for patients, albeit in a different kind of way. Little did I know that his point was about to be proven and my opinion on death was about to change in a drastic way as I headed to my home in Finley Forest.
It was February 10, 2015, the same day there were shootings in the condo unit next to mine. The same day three innocent lives were taken. The same day these incredible individuals -- who were doing incredible things with their lives -- were stopped in their tracks because of an act of hatred.
One of those dead was Deah -- but we deal with death a lot in medicine and his death wasn’t what really perturbed me. What really tore me apart was that Deah was the nicest guy you’d ever meet - always smiling, always looking to brighten another person’s day, always running community service projects to help people worldwide. What really broke me wasn’t just that he was gone and couldn’t complete those projects -- it was that he was robbed. He was robbed of his future, robbed of his ability to leave this earth knowing he had finished what he had started, with his affairs in order. He was robbed of being able to die a peaceful death, to die in the way he wanted to leave the world.
I reflected on this during my next day in hospice, during the candlelight vigil for those three murders that night, during their memorial service after. I realized that hospice care is actually perfectly in line with everything we do in medicine. Our focus on saving lives can make us forget that the main point of what we are doing is caring for our patients, making them feel better. Which is exactly what hospice care does - it ensures the comfort of patients with medications, allowing them to get their affairs in order and helping them find peace as the patient’s life ends.
But there was another aspect of hospice care I hadn’t considered until those murders gave me a new perspective. Hospice care isn’t just about the patient -- it's also about the family and friends of that patient. It’s about helping those people come to terms with the end of their loved one’s life. As I looked at the tear-streaked faces of those around me at the vigil and memorial services, I realized how much loss can truly hurt people -- especially when that loss is abrupt, unexpected, and way too soon.
by Jocelyn W., medical student