Stephanie Hinton is a medical student in the Class of 2019 at Queen's University
It’s August 17th. My grandmother died today. She never made it to palliative care. Instead, she was kept in the corner of a hospital room surrounded by empty walls and a window looking out over a parking lot. She was confined to her bed, barely conscious, and at the mercy of those with little experience in end-of-life care because she had not quite been deemed “palliative.” I sat by her bedside for 12 hours a day, 3 days in a row, leaving only to sleep. I watched her grimace in pain and counted down the hours to the next dose of pain medication. It would finally come — four hours late and barely offering the relief she was looking for. We waited for a doctor to come check on her and answer our questions. We were told they didn’t know where the doctor was or when the doctor was coming, or — my personal favourite — “Doctor’s don’t need to keep you informed of every care decision.”
She had been refused IV hydration and kept NPO, and her vitals were never checked. When they were finally checked, she was saturating dangerously below 90%. On August 17th at 8:00 am, we received a call telling us she would be moved to palliative care. At 8:15 am, we got a call telling us she had died. She was alone. We had been given empty promises the night before that she “might pull through,” and we were unable to stay the night. We were given the “privilege” of seeing her 45 minutes after she had passed, the “privilege” of calling family members to ask them if they would like to come and say their final goodbyes. We had the “privilege” of sitting by her bedside and waiting for family to arrive long after she had transitioned between life and death, doctors and nurses nowhere in sight to offer the support we desperately needed. We sat with a dreadful feeling, wondering how we could have better advocated for her and knowing she was not given the dignified death she deserved. This feeling would linger and creep up months after her death....continue reading →
Serena Arora is a medical student in the Class of 2019 at McMaster University
I love puzzles.
I love looking at the picture on the box, seeing what the completed version will look like and then pouring out all the little pieces — knowing that, somehow, they all come together to create something.
In some ways, practicing medicine is like doing a puzzle. It’s complex, intersecting, and incredibly rewarding when done right. At the same time, medicine is fractured into a thousand different components. As physicians, we look at our patients and we piece them apart into organs and body systems and tissues. We rip the details we think are important from the fabric of their narrative to focus on specific complaints. We take their words and distill them into our jargon, often so much so that their original story would be unrecognizable. Medicine is often an act of reductionism.
Matthew Lee is a medical student in the Class of 2019 at Dalhousie University
I was totally unsure. Meeting a patient who knows they are going to die... wouldn’t it be intrusive, at the end? A student coming into your life: asking questions, getting signatures, asking you to share your precious time. In the same position, I don’t know if I would say yes. That thought makes me feel a bit uncomfortable. Checking in on the floor, with information hurriedly scribbled into the margins of a notebook. A brief run-in with her mother in the crowded room, then twenty minutes spent in the hallway — trying not to be obtrusive while staff hurry by. There are visitors every day, and I doubt I looked out of place.
In some ways, I chose to take on this project in order to become more comfortable with death. It’s something I have faced before, and it took years to move past my friend dying from lymphoma. He quickly stepped away to take a phone call at our convocation. It was a biopsy result. Nearly six months to the day and it was all over. It took nearly everything I had. ...continue reading →
Sarah Hanafi is a medical student in the Class of 2018 at the University of Alberta
In healthcare, we sometimes hear the saying, “I went home thinking about that patient.” I thought I knew what this meant until I met Winnie.
It was a foggy Tuesday and the humidity hung thick in the air. On my first day as an elective student in Palliative Care, I was apprehensive as I exited the elevator onto the hospital unit where I would be spending the next two weeks. Soon after my orientation, I was asked to go meet my first patient. Winnie came to us with pain and shortness of breath due to an advanced lung cancer. We worried that Winnie’s hospital bed would become her death bed. ...continue reading →
“I have stage 4 lung cancer. I’m dying and this is where I will spend my last days.”
I listened as a vulnerable, palliative, homeless man told our team about his life in a homeless shelter in Toronto. I watched him and thought of my great aunt who passed away from cancer, surrounded by her loved ones, housed, safe and comfortable. I was left feeling ashamed - how could we allow people to pass in such circumstances? ...continue reading →