What do you tell someone who’s about to die?

(Disclaimer: I received verbal consent from my patient to share about my experience with him.)

This week I’ve been at the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit, and nothing has challenged me more physically, mentally and emotionally during a placement.

At the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit, many patients come in after suffering heart attacks. They are in critical need of care, where many patients are vulnerable and are fighting to stay alive… and the healthcare team fighting to keep them alive.

The week began quite calmly, which gave me lots of reading time, but since yesterday and especially today, I’ve been running.

Running. Trying to learn and help out during critical situations, but mainly trying to keep out of the way. Running to wherever the alarm rings. Another patient is dying. Every second counts.

Yesterday, in the midst of a flurry of doctors and nurses trying to save another patient from a cardiac arrest, everyone leaves the room to discuss. At this point, several life-saving electric shocks had been given, and I was there to witness them all. Even seeing the patient in pain.

I tried fighting my tears as I realise, I don’t like seeing patients in pain. And I really wish I don’t ever have to. But there I was.

I was left alone in the room with the patient and I take their hand to comfort them. The patient then looks at me straight in the eyes and tells me:

Jag kommer nu.” – “I’m coming now.”

Coming. Coming to a place beyond us. Coming to death. Coming to what I like to believe, life after death. Coming to Heaven.

I was silent, again fighting my tears. I look straight back not knowing what to say. What do you tell someone who knows they’re about to die, and you know it too? What do you tell someone who’s about to die?

*

This question wracked my brain until the next day. Could I have said anything to improve the situation? What if that really was the last chance I got to talk to them? What if I was the last person they spoke to, and I couldn’t even say a word?

Fortunately, this story has a happy ending. After a rough night and morning of more emergency interventions, the patient is alive and recovering. I finished my day early and decided to pass by the patient’s room to talk to them. It didn’t really feel right for me to leave for the weekend, not knowing whether they will be okay or not when I return. I waited for their room to be free, came in, and in the end I stayed for over an hour chatting. At the end of it they took my hand and told me:

“You have an important duty to pass on your genes to the next generation and I hope you have many children… but be careful with your choice!”

I promised I will, and in return I made them promise they will be around when I come back after the weekend.

As a medical student, I usually joke that another day at the hospital is another life saved, but now I realised this is not a joke at all. As healthcare workers, we are given the unique opportunity to make great changes in people’s lives, and sometimes even save a life. However at times, we are also there as they take their last breath. Being prepared for both scenarios would make the best impact on people’s lives and today, I realised I still have a lot left to learn.

heart ECG tracing recording

 

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