She was nine years young with a complicated diagnosis — neuroblastoma/pheochromocytoma. “Medically interesting” is the term I used as a euphemism for “I am terrified to be involved in her care.” After all, she was dying. I knew that. The team knew that. Her father refused that.
Still now I wonder, did she know?
A week later, I was in Iceland: far from PCAs, codes, and secret tears in the call room. I opened my laptop in the airport on my way home to update her discharge summary (after all, I was delinquent). Signed, just two days prior, was a completed death summary. I read it. I read every progress note. I looked through her vitals. I looked through her laboratory studies. Her imaging. I shut my laptop and boarded the plane.
I cried on the plane. The stranger who sat next to me asked me what was wrong and I said I was afraid of heights. She held my hand until take-off.
Later that evening, I found myself in my apartment complex elevator – it stopped on the 6th floor and I rolled my eyes. One floor away from my apartment. He, the father of the patient who occupied my thoughts on the duration of my flight, walked into the elevator.
“Hello doctor,” he said.
His eyes were bloodshot.
“Hello,” I said. I shifted my weight side to side; the space felt heavy with uncertainty and discomfort.
We reached my floor. “Goodnight” he said.
I rolled my luggage behind me. “Goodnight” I whispered as the elevator doors closed. Still now, I think about the words left unsaid. In the hospital, we used Google translate to navigate the divide between English and Arabic.
How do you say I’m so sorry for your loss in Arabic? And would that even be enough.