Yesterday, one of my patients died. We came across her during routine morning rounds; the entire team, expecting to see her in her usual state (sick, but stable), only to discover that she was agonally breathing… we felt for a pulse.. thready… and then, quietly, she stopped breathing. She had already been designated DNR, so there was nothing we could do to escalate her care and she would not have survived a code; it would only have caused her suffering. We stayed with her for 20 minutes, holding her hand, recycling her blood pressure, asking her to stay with us, feeling for her pulse…. which felt more and more distant as each second passed. Until finally, after long minutes of absolutely no voluntary breaths, I had to pronounce her time of death.
She was 101 years old.
We hung our heads low, walked out of the room, and continued on our morning rounds. For the rest of the day, I felt an aching in my chest that I did not understand. I went about my day taking care of our very sick patients, smiling, joking… but aching. She was 101 years old. And she died on new years day 2018. I think about what this changing over of the year means to us… she had 101 of these. One-hundred and one moments of feeling hopeful for a new year. One-hundred and one moments of having loved ones wish her a lifetime of health and happiness. A human with hopes and dreams, fears and insecurities. I had spent the whole day compartmentalizing so I could get through the day taking care of our very sick patients, that I hadn’t taken a moment to consider the gravity of the end of her life. 101 years.
This morning, when I awoke, I cried for her. Ok, if I’m going to be honest, I sobbed. And I also took a deep breath for her. We are here now. Maybe we will live to 101 as well. Maybe we won’t. But let’s hope, and be damn sure, that we use every one of those hypothetical 101 years to be here. Now. Live. Be honest. Do good. Show kindness. Enjoy. All of it. Today, I will ask my team to take a moment to reflect about not just her death, but her life. Today, I hope you open your heart… to life. If for no other reason, but for her. *photo taken in California central coast January 1st, 2015.