Work has been extremely busy these last two weeks. Students are on a school break here in NZ, so most of the doctors with school age kids have also taken these weeks off as well. That’s left me covering for two other doctors. As the single doctor with no family, I always get shafted with working weekends, holidays, and other days of the year that requires family bonding and hand holding around the dinner table.
Today I was overbooked with sick kids with snotty noses. Mondays are always a big cluster of a mess anyway. Around 11am, already 3 patients behind schedule, the nursing home called: a patient of one of the other doctor’s was dying. The wife of the patient had requested that the doctor come immediately. I looked at my full schedule, then at my nurse, and without even thinking, I said, “why do they need me? He’s dying. It was expected. I’m too busy right now. Tell them I’ll come when I get the chance.” I was already frustrated with being behind schedule and now this dying patient had thrown a wrench into my hectic day.
I proceeded to continue seeing patients, but something didn’t sit right with me. While listening to the next patient, my heart began to beat faster and faster and I had this innate feeling that I needed to go to the nursing home. I quickly finished examining the patient and ran out to waiting room to apologize to the other patients who were waiting. None of them minded that I had to leave, or at least they all nodded in understanding.
When I arrived at the nursing home, there was a large gathering of people outside of the patient’s room. I had never met him before, but from his chart, I knew that he had lung cancer and that he was from a large Pacific Islander family. There were probably 20-30 people surrounding him as he slowly took his last breaths. His wife was sitting next to his bed, holding his hand, and whispering to him that he could go, that she would be alright. I went back out into the hallway and waited.
After it was all over, the wife came up to me and held my hand. She had a warm motherly touch. She thanked me for coming so quickly and for answering questions from some of the other family members. She gave me a blessing in her native tongue. I wanted to tell her that I was a sham, a fraud. That I didn’t want to come at first, that I thought her husband had inconvenienced my morning schedule, and that I didn’t deserve her kindness and gratitude. But I didn’t say it because I could see it in her eyes that she already knew everything I had wanted to say.
I left the nursing home and sat in my car for a few minutes collecting myself. I was disappointed and ashamed in my behavior and actions that morning. This family didn’t need me to do anything, but to be there. To listen to their concerns. To stand with them at their most vulnerable moment. To give them some sense of security that a doctor was present. But mostly, to care.
After composing myself, I turned on the engine and headed back to the clinic. Back to the long line of snotty nosed kids and their overly concerned mothers, who just need some reassurance and to know that someone else cares as well.