Am I Dying: A Doctor’s Response

woman-with-cancer-holding-a-wig

“Am I dying?” she asked.

Her eyes were fixed on me. I had no place to hide. The room was filled with something I could not name. My chair began to feel too large. It was the chair of someone important. I should have taken the smaller seat. Less would have been expected of me.

I had never seen this woman before. She was a stranger to me. She was an unknown face from a sea of unknown faces that have passed through this room. She wasted no time with me. She knew the meaning of time. She took a photo from her bag to show me how she used to look. She waited for me to say something. Her eyes unnerved me. They were pleading. I wonder to this day if she saw that my eyes were pleading, too.

“Am I dying?”

She clutched her notebook. She removed her wig. She waited for a reply. I could not speak. No words were forming. I became frantic. I scrambled to find some small piece of wisdom. None came. In the end, I said what I was taught to say.

“What do you think?”

We sat for many moments in silence. I wondered if it felt like eternity to her or if my clock had simply stopped. Clocks stop when you hold back or feel dishonest in some way. Sometimes they never work again.

I am a death care provider, paid to escort cancer patients on the remainder of their run. I am the one who is supposed to hold that which has become too heavy for them. More times than not, they are the ones who hold that which has become too heavy for me.

Every day I tell myself that I have done the right thing. Inside, I know that I have not. I continue to wonder how a single decision that I have made will ripple through time. Sometimes, I am certain it will fall flat. Sometimes, I am certain I will change a course. Sometimes, I am certain that I’m not even the one who is steering.

She died one week later on a Monday morning. I knew she would. I stood at her bedside and watched the life of her move to another place. Her husband was there. So were her daughters. When the moment came, there was peace and grief surrounding her. Her obituary was simple. I clipped it from the Sunday paper and placed it alongside the other clippings I keep to remind me.

Each day is a new day, another opportunity to get it right. Maybe today I will. Maybe not. It’s one of those things I still cannot predict. Even when my heart is in the right place and I am sure of my intention, I mess up. Would I answer her differently if I could do it again?

“Yes.”

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