Picture of Gayathri SivakumarGayathri Sivakumar is a medical student in the Class of 2020 at Western University.




A cold awakening when I got a call about you
the feeling of the nightmare we all dread
You know, the one where you fall off the edge of a cliff
except I kept falling and failed to wake up
I was seeing my sickest patients that morning
I had a plan to help them
I started to figure out when and how to help my patients
I was assembling a sense of purpose in my service
With every step, my heart raced faster
We knew your time was coming to an end, the hourglass almost empty
You have been holding on, aching for another afternoon with your son
To cherish his warmth and love, to embrace another day
But each day came with a cruel complication, weakening you
The memories of your life became fragmented, disappearing into oblivion
Except, you never forgot your son
The door to your room was closed
I pushed the door with my entire weight, barely cracking it open
My hands were shaking
I walked into your room, a shiver ran up my spine
A thin bed sheet covered your body, your face
Could I ever be ready for this?
Denial was my friend, so I waited silently
for the slightest glimpse of movement underneath your bed sheets
for the rise and fall of your chest wall
a comforting thought came across my mind, “Sometimes, I sleep like this too”
I brought myself to uncover your face
Your glassy eyes looked beyond me, captivated, frozen
I could barely discern the colour of your skin from the white bed sheet covering you up
I reached for your hand and steadied your cold hands in mine to feel your pulse
We, as medical students, could miss many things on a physical exam, but the pulse was
impossible to miss
the pulsing arteries underneath my fingertips, bounding with force, even faint or thread-like at times
but, always there
Not with you — I felt nothing, you were purged of any vestiges of life
Did I have my landmarks right?
I placed my stethoscope over your chest and felt unsettled
the air around me felt heavy along with your mute chest
I thought about your husband without a wife, your sons without a mother, your siblings without a sister
You were loved
Yet, we couldn’t keep this from happening to you
Did you suffer when it happened? Why didn’t I see you as my first patient this morning?
Could I have helped?

We have our moments of “firsts” we hold close to our hearts, many of them heart-warming, glorious, and inspiring
But others immersed in darkness, reminding us of our limitations as physicians
Where the greatest difference we can make for our patients lies with our kindness and compassion
I will always remember you
The love you displayed for your family, even in your last moments
Your kindness, even as your mind slipped away from you