How to engage meaningfully with dying patientsAs we slowly drove west, our cab had a palpable tension. Our taxi driver who was driving us to our patient’s retirement home had numerous stories to tell us about how the locality was beautiful during summer time and things about the local prisons. Even though I laughed at these stories, my heard beat became faster and louder as we neared our destination and I felt anxious. Even though I had read a lot about death and talked about it, I really hadn’t literally engaged with somebody about their life coming to an end.

My encounter with a dying person

Finally, when we entered our patient’s room, the sight of an elderly woman who was relatively good looking relieved me. This is a rather strange feeling to experience as you set in a dying patient’s room. I felt good that I didn’t get face my perception of what I believed about death and dying. Recently, Mrs. Jones had been diagnosed to be suffering from pancreatic cancer and this really struck me being an oriented, engaged and intelligent woman. As we slowly learned about Mrs. Jones’ children, grand children, medical history and hobbies, I became a little at ease. Even though the conservation was nice, it lacked something. I was gently broaching the idea of death as it engaged her about what the physicians had told her about the disease and its natural course.

Rather than talking about death or illness, the patient surprised me as talked of how she will soon be feeling better and walking again. Well, I was relieved as she vividly convinced us how she was surely going to recover from her illness. Now, I know her to be even more unwell and confused than I thought initially. Her misunderstanding could have resulted from her unwillingness of accepting death and her mental incapacity. For me, I seriously hoped that she would recover and get fine and as a result, death wasn’t part of our conversation. I strongly believe that engaging and believing in stories provided to us by patients can relieve us, which is quite normal even though it might be particularly helpful or patient centered.

Supporting a dying person

For us to be able to support the spiritual, social, medical or emotional help of any dying person, we really can’t be pre- occupied with selfish desires. Just like any other patient, a dying patient also has his or her own unique needs, reference and frame of reference. Such must be addressed and recognized fully by the team providing health care to the patient. As we drove back from the retirement home, I felt a little disappointed with the fact that I wasn’t able to interact with Mrs. Jones in a meaningful way. At the back our car, a heated conversation was continuing on palliative care, taking care of a dying patent and even death itself. This experience reminded me once again that death isn’t really a comfortable subject to talk about.