Slowly, the oxygen saturation dropped. Gradually, the alarms sounded. Insisting. Imploring us to do something. We turned them off. Made him comfortable. But we knew we couldn’t hide the truth.
We were letting him suffocate.
~ ~ ~
A lucid man. A failing lung. A decision made. A breathing tube placed—just temporarily— until the lungs healed. Until they got stronger. Until he got stronger. But I saw the regret the moment it was inserted. Nevertheless. We agreed to give it a chance.
But days passed. Then weeks. No improvement. Being alert, he communicated with us well. Through his writing, I got to know him well. His adventures. His best memory. His regrets in life. He was a good man.
But a man who never desired to live like this.
While the family disputed on what course of action to take next, he remained calm and unwavering.
“Please let me go.” was what he would say.
Then finally the moment came.
The time to say goodbye.
~ ~ ~
That day, I let myself weep during rounds. In front of a crowd of stoic faces. To weep over a friend. To weep over a human being. Over his courage. An impossible decision. The loss of a life. Everything.
I’ve been wanting to write this to you for a while. I go to work, and though I’ve never met you, I think about you. I talk to a patient, and while I’m standing there, there you are again, tugging at my heart. Maybe it’s because I know of your mom, and I know of her heartbreak. Maybe it’s because I know you will never be able to do what you were meant to do.
This is what I know about you. You were a medical student. You went to school in North Carolina. You cared for people. And you wanted to care for them at the greatest capacity possible. You wanted to help people during their times of sickness, strengthen them in their weakness. But your life was robbed from beneath you. So this will never happen. And the world has lost another great physician.
I hear you were a loving person, one who illuminated the day of all whom you came across. Of course you did. You were your mother’s shining star. But what no one knew, and what you didn’t reveal until your departure, was that you were also suffering. Deeply. But you were good at hiding it with your smile. And because it was a genuine smile, we were beguiled. Especially those closest to you.
When I think of you, my heart aches. Maybe it’s because I feel that I understand you better than I have a right to. Maybe it is because I once smiled a similar smile. I weep because of what you did, and because I think I understand why.
When I think of you, my soul is anguished. You were going to be a remarkable physician. You would have touched others with your empathy, changed lives with your care. They would have remembered you, not simply because you were the one who eased their suffering and comforted their souls, but because your spirit would have brightened their lives. No one had the right to take that away from you.
Founded in 2013 by Phoebe Chi, MD, PhoebeMD: Medicine + Poetry is a health information and literary arts website that aims to inspire, empower, and inform through a curated mix of essential health information, uplifting stories, and original poetry.