Wednesday, August 15, 2012


Note: Names are changed to protect…well…everyone.

File this under "Things I can't be completely honest with an interviewer about." When they ask "why do you want to change careers?" I find other things to say besides BECAUSE IF ONE MORE PERSON DROPS DEAD I AM GOING TO LOSE IT.

I work in nursing homes. My patients are old, sick, and sad. Sometimes not in that order. They die a lot. A LOT. And you kind of get used to it, and that in and of itself is a soul crushing thing, you know? I visit my patients twice a week and I am all up in their business…well, emotionally. I do NOT do diapers, thank the sweet baby Jesus for that. For most of them, they will be my patients until they die. I know, this is not the happiest thing you've ever read, but this is real life, people. I know most of them better than anyone else in their lives. We get into all the heavy stuff: regrets, grief, fears, their love of Dr Phil and The Price is Right. I hold their hands when they're in pain, I know which ear is their "good" ear, who will get mad if I come to see them during "Gunsmoke," who will get offended if you offer to push their wheelchair and who will kiss your hand for it, I know that Kristin has a crush on Bobby, and that Muriel is going to murder her roommate if she doesn't stop farting in her sleep. I listen to them kvetch and complain, I encourage, I challenge, I make requests on their behalf for extra dessert. I love them. I just can't help it.

So even if I get somewhat used to the dying process, I'm not ever going to call it easy. The goal is to make it a "good" death, and yes there really is such a thing. Two of my absolute favorite patients, two of the spunkiest ladies to ever walk this earth, faced death with such grace and peace and their trademark sass and grit, it was an honor to walk with them to the end. I've saved their last words to me like precious stones that I will take out and polish again and again. With my dear Ruth, we had said our goodbyes and I told her what she'd meant to me, and as I hugged her that last time, she held me by the shoulders and said, "Is that bullshit?" with her usual sparkle. And with my sweet Mae, she made one last request before I left her on our final visit: "Stop being a horse's ass and give me my dentures." I laughed, handed her the dentures, and walked out. And today I learned she died the next day. These lovely women stayed true to themselves to the very end, and I will miss them sorely.

And then once, I was going to visit a patient, and when I walked into his room, I jumped when I found him lying on his bed covered head to toe in a white sheet. Maybe warn me beforehand or put a sign on the door or SOMETHING…"Do not enter: Dead person in here." The next week, I saw his physician and asked how the man had died. 

"He's dead???" 

Clearly if his physician didn't know, then something was up. 

"He's not??? I found him last week in bed covered in a sheet." 

She said, "Oh, he likes to nap like that sometimes. He's fine." 

I'm sorry but WHAT?!? YOU'D THINK THAT'S THE KIND OF THING YOU WARN PEOPLE ABOUT. "Oh yeah, he likes to nap like a corpse, but don't worry about it. He's probably fine."

So between the real dying and the fake dying, well, I am just WORN OUT. 


  1. oh my god. i laugh out loud everytime i hear the corpse napper story. thank you dr. great post! :)

    1. Thanks, lovey! Yes, it is truly a treasured moment. :)


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...