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Monday, May 28, 2012

Our grieving doctors

Memorial Day primarily recognizes the ultimate sacrifice given by our soldiers - and as a retired military wife, I have seen a slice of what that sacrifice really means, and I honor every one of them and their families on this sacred day.
But when I was growing up, we called this 'decoration day', and went to the graves of our ancestors to pay our respects. I can remember seeing the adults' faces as they would discuss the departed's final days, or share funny stories, and I am sure, contemplated the day when we would be talking the same way over their graves. I learned a lot about how life and death were faced by my elders, and probably picked up most of my strong feelings about my own story's end from those times.
I now work in a medical center, where dying and living pass in the hallway every minute of every day. I am cared for by excellent health science professionals and students, who I hope know that they did a great day's work by removing my cancers and following me as I traveled back to wellness.  I teach graduate health career students on how to locate information and the evidence they need to add to their knowledge as they go about gaining skills to cure and relieve pain and suffering. 

The Assertive Cancer Patient posted a link to a New York Times article on this topic:

I haven't had much exposure in the last 12 years on how these students are prepared for the loss of their patients. I don't want them seeing the loss of my life as a failure, but as a natural progression, since as we all know how life has an ending. I understand that health science students are heading for the best grades and every successful milestone they can record as they work so very hard towards their goal of the specialty they seek. But I would find it more useful at this point in my life to know as a patient what their score was on a course of palliative care,  or  the "good death" seminar,  or their beliefs on the limits of science and my quality of life, than what they scored on a microbiology final (yes, that is important too, but I am trying to make a point here.)  In my opinion, some things, birth and death included, are handled better by the art of medicine than the science of managed medical care. I hope my caregivers are keeping my wishes in mind when they come up with treatment plans, that's all. 

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