Empty Corridor

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He leans in over the hospital bed for the kill, one hand on the arm of the young man lying asleep there.

He has given this speech hundreds of times. He knows from experience that here, right here, he needs to pause for dramatic effect.

“The only humane thing at this point is palliative care.”

He stands up straight and crosses his arms across his chest and waits, satisfied with his delivery.

She looks down at her baby, the boy trapped here in a man’s body.

This doctor does not know that her first husband, her boy’s father, beat her. That he tried to kill her and the boy but the gun jammed and that a short time later, thankfully, he died in a car accident before he could touch her again.

He does not know that her second husband, the love of her life, died unexpectedly at age forty, two weeks after his metastatic melanoma diagnosis. They told her palliative care then, too.

Or that her third husband shot himself in the head last year because he could no longer take the severe physical pain anymore. Palliative care did not ease his suffering.

And now they want her to kill the one remaining tie to herself, to that wide eyed, unjaded young woman that she used to be before she learned what cerebral palsy really meant…

The doctor gives her his best understanding, compassionate smile. He knows what she must be thinking.

You, sir, don’t know shit.

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83 thoughts on “Empty Corridor

  1. At another airport and starting to tear up. Thanks! πŸ™‚
    We don’t really ever know what someone thinks despite what they say or don’t say. I think some of us become more honest the closer we get to death. Nothing else matters.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m not sure if you are aware of how incredible you are at this writing thing. You treat life, observe life, share life. Not to mention you gave it. All I can do when I read this is…..stare at my computer picturing this woman….because you put me right there next to her. Supporting her.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Very sad.
    The problem with empathy is that people think they know when they really don’t. If only more people took the time to really try to understand.
    I wonder if that would actually make them change…?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Instead of telling, asking. I would imagine asking how she felt about palliative care would be the place to start rather than telling her that was the only option. Maybe? Sometimes we just get the feeling that thing have to be our way and we forget what lurks in the shadows that we cannot see.

      Liked by 3 people

  4. I would never know what to do in a situation like that, which is why I am so grateful for people like you. You may, or you may not know, but you are courageous enough to make a decision when one needs to be made. For that, I thank you more than I can say.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Awesome and true and excellently written Victo. Thank you. I see two issues here – both of which are systemic. Doctors are trained to look at what they perceive to be the best possible treatment/advice for patients and to present/pursue that in an authoritative manner. That is a trait that I want in a surgeon if i am opened up on the opoerating table. They train pilots the same way – or least they used to. When a split second decision is required to save a life, there can be no voting – it is not a democracy, all the weight is on the doctor and there can be no hesitation. The trouble is that they are trained to use that as a pesonality characteristic rather than a skill to be employed in specific situations. The very environment that is used to train doctors drips with that authoritarian style and it is pounded into their heads that this is the way to be to be successful (in treatment if not in life). As desirable as tihs is in some situations, it becomes a detriment to encouraging input and collaborative decision making.

    The second systemic issue is more difficult. Highly skilled and trained professionals such as yourself Victo come at a high social and personal cost. I had a colorectal surgeon who had a trainee follwing him around. Both were exemplary and the student was almost ready to go out on his own. In fact I had multiple operations and the student did one of them. Worked fine for me. The student (i’m sure there is a weightier word for his status) had been studying full time since he was 5 years old (no year breaks for work or travel or rest ) and I witnessed the completion of his studies at 33 years of age. Including grade school he had been studying for 28 years for this job. This social and personal cost is huge. And yet it is what is required. This means that these specialists must see patients on an almost assembly line schedule in order to maximize the use of their specialized skills to justify the high cost of their training. That means they will never have the time to ever get to know their patient’s and caregivers personal circumstances sufficiently well to be able to make the best decisions. This is difficult to rectify. There was test program in England for a while that attempted to address this but it was expensive and I don’t know if it even still exists. For patients with complex medical situations or for whom life decisions would have to be made, a patient advocate was assigned to the case. This advocate took the time to understand all the emotional and other aspects of each case intimately and then advised the medical team accordingly. They went to all appointments and consultations as required. However in these days of increasing financial pressures, i doubt this option would ever be implemented.

    All that said, I feel sad for the patient, the caregiver/family and for the doctor who was doing the best he could with the info and training he had. Possibly he could have been more sensitive as you mentioned but see issue #1.

    Excellent post Victo. It points out some very key issues in our medical sytem – not ones with easy answers but all solutions start with a recognition of the problem.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for your very thorough, and accurate, dissection of the issues here! The other point is a reminder to physicians that when things become rote, when we think we know it all, we have to take a step back so we can get a better view of the overall picture and not lose our humanity.

      Like

  6. Pingback: My Article Read (1-27-2015) | My Daily Musing

  7. I found this series on “To the Best of Our Knowledge: Death” that has been eye-opening and informative about a very delicate subject, and thought of you, Victo. This particular episode deals with doctors and their conversations with patients about end of life. If you choose to listen to any part of this podcast, be sure to check out the discussion about insurance and medical decisions.
    http://www.ttbook.org/series/death/death-exit-plan

    Liked by 1 person

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