The Chaos of Medicine: The Meaning of Life

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Meaning of Life

Yesterday I had a three-hour shift. It is one of my regular small shifts which are arranged when the nursing home cannot fill up the schedule. Except that it wasn't a regular shift.

I entered the nursing home, expecting an easy-going shift. Usually, all I have to do is watch my patients and help them get lunch. I like this type of shift as it leaves me time to spend much-needed individual time with patients. For these people, I also need the time, since two of them have been physically fighting any chance they get. This day seemed like no other day. Everyone was very calm, which is very beneficial to especially patients with dementia. I discussed the patients with my colleague from the previous shift.

"Well, everything is calm and peaceful. Patient A is on a walk with her family. Patient C has been experiencing shoulder pain and we're keeping track of heart rate and blood pressure to rule out cardiac involvement. So far it seems OK, but keep an eye on him. Oh, and did you read the recent emails?"

I answered that I've not been working lately so I didn't read the emails.

"Patients D and E have passed away. Patient D died a week ago and is already at the undertakers. Patient E died last night and is still in his room. The room is locked."

Patients D and E. The patients who were fighting ever since E got here. Two patients in four days, no wonder it's calm. We talk about them for a bit. You never get used to deaths. I talked about this before after experiencing my first deaths. My opinion hasn't changed and I've been told that it will never get easier. Still, this is a very confronting way of deatg, with the patient still being present.

At the nursing home, life goes on. We can't stop every time someone dies. So I tak a bit with my patients and help them get lunch. Two plates less than usual. After lunch, many family members come visit the patients. I don't know many of the visitors. Two women enter. They look lost. "Can I help you?" I ask. They appear to be E's family. They ask me to open the patient's door. As I do this, I see the patient. He looks peaceful. His wife is very sad, his daughteris more relieved. I can understand their feelings. The patient has made it very clear that he never wanted to live the way he did for his last months. Still, it doesn't make his death OK.

I leave the room so the family has some privacy. In the living room, it is very calm, almost too calm. But not for long. Patient C needs to go to the bathroom. I help him get to his room. He tells me his left leg hurts. I find out that his pain, previously in his left shoulder, is now in his left side, radiating to his leg. His pulse is 115. I get a colleague who checks his blood pressure (normal). She decided to call the nurse, though, as his pulse and pain are a cause for concern.

My three hours are up and my colleague takes over. I leave the nursing home. I don't know how patient C is doing. Patient D and E are still dead. It left me thinking a lot about death and the meaning of life. What do I want out of my life? Why does it even matter? Will I ever be able to answer these questions?

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