I went to work yesterday, and I was taking care of a patient and a family that went through the process of actively withdrawing his life support. I had taken care of this patient many times, and built a connection with their family. Anyway, he was dying and we weren’t able to get him better, just barely keep him alive. We had a family meeting, and the intern who has been working with them, and I, led the discussion. They decided that he wouldn’t want to be kept alive on machines, and a few hours later we turned his ventilator settings down to allow nature to take its course.
It was a situation that had already been bringing tears to my eyes. The intern and I literally held each other as the color of his face became bluer, then whiter, then gray. I have witnessed many deaths in the ICU, I have withdrawn life support and shed tears, but never has a physician worked so closely with me, and stood there with me and the family as the patient took his last breaths. Never has anyone offered comfort to me during the process, nor have I been able to return it so fully. That was the only good thing about the experience, I suppose, that and the fact that the family told me so many times how glad they were that I was there to help them through what was, ultimately, one of the worst days of their lives.
So this is my job. Every day I work closely with my colleagues, nurses and doctors and lots of other people, to do this extraordinary thing, this thing called taking care of people. Sometimes I get the chance to bond very closely with the family, more rarely with the patient, and most rarely with the doctors working with me.
I am really having a hard time at home. After these powerful experiences at work, where I felt so deeply connected with other adults, forming friendships and bonding in ways that are extraordinary, the days at home with a toddler, by myself, seem to stretch out interminably. After such life-altering experiences, I crave the connections I made there and feel bored and lackluster at home. If nothing else, the experience of watching a beloved person die and the family grieve should make me appreciate every second I have at home with my daughter and other loved ones. Instead, I feel completely drained, longing for something somewhat intangible, and just beyond my grasp. I’m empty, sad, listless, and… desperate feeling.