I nicknamed my favorite patient Little Bo Peep. I can explain: her earliest memory was of dancing through the streets of New Orleans during Mardi Gras, dressed as Little Bo Peep. She was 3 at the time, perhaps 4. It was hard for her to remember. Her memory had been “hazy,” she admitted cautiously — worried about how I would take that confession. She admitted a lot of things to me.
Over the course of two weeks, I noticed that we had a lot of shared interests: nail polish (eh, I’ll admit it), German Shepherds, and Russian literature – in particular, Anna Karenina.
She was dying — I think she knew that but I was blinded by my desire for her to live — and nonetheless she took such interest in my life. Carefully spun sentences stitched us closer together. Patients with terminal cancer have a great need for emotional support; I found myself holding her hand as she cried, painting her nails, cleaning her up after she vomited. We spent a lot of time talking – she hated to be alone – and I often told her that she knew me better than anyone else in New Orleans. She didn’t believe me, but it was true.
I was both fascinated and terrified by her disease process.
I didn’t take her passing well. I was shocked when I came to know she had passed – it seemed so sudden – and I felt the unrelenting burden of guilt. I was struck by sadness. I will admit that I’m still processing, slowly. I’ve cried myself to sleep, less often now than before. As I said before, I’m still processing.
Today marked the end of my clinical duties for the internal medicine rotation and I’ve found myself revisiting the highs and lows of the past seven weeks on the wards.
I’ve come to understand what sort of physician I want to be. I’ve come to realize first-hand the toll of losing a patient.
Tonight I seek solace in the words Tolstoy. I’ll leave my favorite quote: “Rummaging in our souls, we often dig up something that ought to have lain there unnoticed.”