Tomorrow’s lessons


Dear ——–,

You were my patient for four days. On the first day, we treated your many diseases. On the second day, we removed all but comfort measures. When I arrive at the hospital tomorrow, you will not be there. My boyfriend worries about me tonight, as you are my first patient to die. I am surprised to tell him that I feel only gratitude for you.

Thank you for being my first patient to die. Thank you for being old and frail. Thank you for displaying clearly and eloquently, despite an illness that has robbed you of speech, your desire to move on.  Thank you for smiling at me on day one, for asking my name, introducing yourself. Thank you for clutching my hand on days two, three and four when I came to wet your lips and ask you if you were in pain. Thank you for not being in too much pain. Thank you for having a caring family who loves you but does not depend upon you, who will have each other to share memories and grief on days five, six, seven.

I am so sad that you will die tonight. I am sad for your children, who have hovered around you over the past four days, and for your spouse, whom you cared for with love and kindness. I am so sad that we don’t get to unpack your ailments together, one by one, stating them in a problem list and labeling them – acute, worsening, improving, resolved. I don’t know how to write a discharge summary for you. I can’t discharge you from my mind: your kind eyes, your thin, frail skin, your erratic, persistent breath, your fervent dignity in the face of your body’s determined deterioration. Thank you for sharing this part of your life with me. Thank you for sharing your death with me. Thank you for your teachings over the past four days and for the lessons that await me tomorrow.  Thank you.