Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Last Valentine

This patient's story is dedicated to those who are frequently overlooked on Valentine's Day - those who have lost a Valentine.

 Today is Valentine's Day.

The hospital is usually busy on Valentine's. Families come to visit, young patients take their loved ones down to the cafeteria, and those who are too sick to move have bouquets delivered to their bedsides. I smile at the relatives as I walk about, blood forms in hand. An elderly lady smiles back as she sits by her husband's bed. A couple of young kids smile sweetly at me as they play hide-and-seek around their mother's bed. I feel bad for interrupting them today, and take bloods as fast as I can.

The clock on the wall shows three o'clock in the afternoon. I am almost done. Just one more patient to bleed. I head to the bay in the far corner of the ward, checking to make sure I have the right bed.

Then I see him.

He sits on his bed facing away from the rest of the ward. The afternoon sun, peeking out from behind a distant hill, falls lightly on his bedsheets as he stares out the window. He is young. I glance at his notes, wondering why. My suspicions are confirmed. Autoimmune disease, and a serious one at that. He has likely been in pain for the best part of a year now, and will feel that pain until the end of his days. Which, sadly, is not too far away.

He turns and smiles as I approach the bed. "Come to take blood, have you?" I nod. "Sorry for the interruption," I say. "No trouble at all. I'm used to it." A tired smile. I know he has recently come out of a long, complicated surgery. I roll up his sleeve and set up my tools.

There are no flowers on the table. No cards on the windowsill. No chairs for visitors either. He sits with his phone, looking longingly at the screen. I steal a glance. A girl's picture smiles back at me.

Medical school teaches us to make conversation with patients to distract them from the blood-taking. So I ask the obvious question. "Is that your girlfriend?"

He sighs. "No."

"Oh..." I did not mean to offend him. "Your sister?"

"No." He says, looking away. I am afraid I have touched a nerve, but he does not turn the phone off. "My last Valentine."

"I see..." Now I am embarrassed. I have dug too far. I don't know what to say, but he saves me the trouble.

"We dated...for 4 years. It was amazing. We were at uni together. And we worked, you know? We had ups and downs, but who doesn't. When she first called herself my girlfriend, I told her she wasn't my girlfriend - she was my other half."

"I see," I add weakly. I do not know what to say. But again he saves me the trouble.

"She died."

I forget the blood bottle and the needle for a moment. "I am so sorry."

"No, I'm sorry. I broke up with her for another woman. She was demanding, and I felt it wasn't working, ya know? But it was partially my fault too." He looks out the window again. The sun peeks out from behind a particularly thick cloud. "Car accident. Three months ago. I never got to say sorry."

For a moment I think I see a tear in his eye. But he turns to me and blinks it away. "Sorry for keeping you, doc. I know you're busy."

"No, no trouble at all. I'll come back later when I'm not too busy."
I smile, and turn to get up.

Suddenly he grabs me by the arm. I turn to find his hard blue eyes staring straight into mine. "You're young, doc. When we're young, we don't realise how fleeting life is. You know that cliche 'live every day like it's your last'? It's a cliche because it's true. Don't have any regrets, doc. Don't be like me."

He winces in pain as he lets me go. I know his wrists hurt. "Thanks," I say. He shakes his head apologetically. "Sometimes I wish that surgery really had killed me".

I find myself wondering if he would be better off if it did. I do not know if that makes me a bad person.


Dr Erhumu said...

I recently wrote about "Life lessons from our patients". Yours is a heart touching story that well descibes some of the life lessons we learn from our daily interactions with our patients.

The Angry Medic said...

Dr Erhumu: Many thanks, Doc. I'll be heading over to your place and adding you to my blogroll!

Internal Optimist said...

Christ, poor chap. I hope you managed to find the time to go back and chat to him later in the day.

The Angry Medic said...

Internal Optimist: I know right. I did, though it didn't help much. He didn't stay long though. Small comfort I guess.

Rocky Hudson said...

Great post, thanks a lot.

The Angry Medic said...

Rocky Hudson:
Right back atcha.

Half a doc said...

Wow, thats a really well written and thought provoking post, I think I would have really struggled to know what to say in response to that!

Dr Vegas said...

A really thoughtful post. I hope the guy in the story is more comfortable now.

Your thoughts don't make you a bad person, any more than his thoughts make him a bad person. In between wanting to be dead, he will no doubt have (even fleeting) moments of being glad to be alive and experiencing life, no matter how bad it is.

I presume he was offered some kind of formal psychological/spiritual support too?

Keep up your good work. Your post reminds us that it's not all about treating people like battery hens on an ever-increasing production line.

Sharveena Kaur Sandal said...