For the 3rd time in 2 weeks I got a request to visit a nursing home. The reason that was entered on my screen was 'patient not eating'. I quickly scanned through the patient's records and saw he though he was in his late 70's, he had Dementia and had been deteriorating gradually for the last few weeks.
I had never met him before and thus I did not know what to expect; but I had the feeling it was not going to be any different from what my mind was preparing me for.
I got there and as I walked into the room I felt that unmistakable presence. A presence that I have grown to accept I would inevitably encounter from time to time in my life as a medic.
The room was immaculately clean and everything was put away neatly. The smell of fresh linen was strong in the room and the bed linen was also clean. Amongst all this was a coldness that was unsettling. I could not help but notice that though this gentleman was slowly slipping away there was no-one with him...no family.
In the bed lay the gentleman I had come to see. I went down on one knee and tried as much as I could to engage with him. The only response I got was a slight flicker of his eyes and a tight squeeze of my hand. The look in his eyes said it all. The fight has been lost.
As a medic one learns to identify death. There are times when I find myself wondering out loud about what life means and what my role is (or should be) at times like this. I have grown to accept there are battles we as medics can fight. And there so many more we cannot. All we can do is use the resources available to us to help all those we can help.
In an age where the population is getting older and older , I guess we all need to learn to celebrate death as is done in Africa when an old wise person dies. The obituary often always reads 'The Celebration of life'
May we learn to embrace death and ask for God's grace in dealing with it.
All the best
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