They say that doctors don’t feel anything anymore when their patients pass away.
It’s not true.
They say palliative medicine is easy. “Do nothing.”
Absolutely not true.
It’s not easy. Sure, we go on with our lives after the inevitable has happened. Sure, we go home and spend happy time with our family and friends.
That’ what being a doctor made us do.
That’s exactly how being in palliative care made us this way.
A patient’s daughter once asked me, “How do you face death, day in and day out?”
At first I did not know what to say.
Then I looked into her eyes and said, “By spending more quality time with our loved ones.”
I elaborated further.
I said to her that another person’s death would always remind us of something that is absolutely going to happen to all of us. We learn lessons from every death we encounter.
It’s up to us, whether to take it positively, or with worry and anxiety.
We learn that time is short; we never know what’s going to happen next. Hence we’d use all the time we have for the good of others. We’d make sure that everything we do means something to the people around us. Loved ones or not.
We learn that nothing is gained out of worldly belongings. They are accessories we could live without.
We learn that everything in this world is temporary, borrowed to us by Him, the Most Powerful. We may have everything now, but we may lose it all at one point of time, and we WILL lose it all when we leave this world.
We learn to love, and to love more.
We learn to care for the other person.
We learn that life is too short for grudges, too short to be spent in anger, sadness and anxiety.
We learn to live life to the fullest.
Oh, and we’re still learning.
. . .
Of course, we need good social support.
Number one, we give good support to each other. It’s never easy to talk to patients’ families about the fact that their loved one is dying. It’s never easy to lay down options of palliative chemotherapy or radiotherapy, telling them that the disease is incurable and the treatment may or may not be beneficial to them. It’s never easy, especially when it has to be done repeatedly, one patient after another, one family after another.
So don’t get insulted if we share jokes with each other, laugh with and at each other, in between consultations. Not in front of our patients, of course, but in our office or in the pantry, or on the way to another ward at the other end of the hospital. Because we need to release the pressure while anticipating another.
Sometimes, that’s the reason we walk in groups. The whole team. Well, a small team, that is.
Number two, we search for support outside work. From our families, from our friends. We go out and have a good life. We have hobbies each.
. . .
Palliative medicine is a new field in our country. We only have seven palliative medicine physicians in the whole country.
The for the past two weeks we’ve been talking about Palliative Care in Islamic perspective during our journal club meetings. It opened all our eyes.
I did have doubts, sometimes, about palliative medicine. Nobody knows what death is like. The ones who’s gone through it can’t come back to tell us. All we could do is watch and draw a conclusion. Even if we had an epiphany about death and dying, we would not be able to say it out loud.
But what made me believe in it has something to do with my grandfather.
I’ve been in palliative medicine for more than two years (why I prolonged what is supposed to be a 6-months medical rotation is another long story of its own), but I have never met anyone more ready for his death than my beloved grandfather.
My grandpa began renovating his house about a year before he passed away. He built a large hall, of which one wall faces the direction of Mecca. He did that not only so that it’s easy for us to just stand facing the wall during our daily prayers. He wanted the wall that way so that when he dies, his body would be put parallel to the wall, so that we could all do the prayers at home.
He built his new bathroom big enough so that, when he dies, he could be bathed in private, in his own home, by his own six sons. The bathroom is longer than it’s wide.
Next to the bathroom there’s a room where we could shroud him after the last bath.
(Bathing, shrouding and prayers are the last rites to be done for a Muslim before burial).
So one fine day, he got a fever. We brought him to the hospital as he did not recover after a few days. He was admitted after that.
The doctor could not find the cause for his fever. He suspected some occult cancer and wanted to investigate more. He wanted to send grandpa for some endoscopic examinations.
Grandpa declined. He said his time is coming, and he wanted to go home. There’s no need for anything invasive anymore.
So we brought him home.
True enough, his fever never settled. He became weaker and weaker, luckily he did not complain of any pain. His wife, ten children and many grandchildren took care of him at home.
He passed away peacefully after about three weeks from the onset of fever.
. . .
So whenever I have doubts, I’d remind myself of my grandfather.