Saturday, May 19, 2012
A Death In The Family
Recently there was a death in the family.
It wasn't anyone very close, but close enough that it's been taking up all my time, which is why I haven't put up the stories from the comments on The Question Everyone Should Ask Themselves. I've seen quite a bit of death lately, and it makes me ponder.
Death has an effect on everyone. It reminds you that however young or old you are, however healthy (or
fatass unhealthy) and however ridiculously good-looking (like me) you are, we all die. It will all end someday.
As a doctor, death changes you. The first few times, anyway. If you let it affect you, you're protecting your humanity. But if you harden up (as all doctors do eventually) and don't let it affect you, you're protecting your heart.
I still remember vividly the first time I pronounced someone dead. It was an elderly grandmother sitting alone in her hospital bed. The family had all left the previous night, and she died in the early morning. The senior doctor and I walked into the room, and there she was, lying on the bed, perfectly still. I remember wondering what a dead body would look like just before entering her room. It didn't look very different from a sleeping person.
The doctor taught me to listen for the heartbeat for three whole minute, then check for breath sounds, then check for a pulse. Having watched too many horror movies (or Scrubs episodes) I kept expecting her to jump awake at any moment and scare me right out of my pants. But of course, she lay perfectly still. Nothing. She was truly gone.
What is the ultimate lesson of death? We already know. Every day we watch movies that tell us, listen to music that tells us, talk to old family members who tell us. Yet still we never listen. The lesson is - life ends. Yours will end someday too. Maybe even today, maybe tomorrow. So we truly should live with no regrets. We truly should act as if every day was our last. As George W. Bush's pastor in the Oliver Stone film 'W.' tells him - "I want you to treat everybody you meet - your friends, your enemies, EVERYBODY - like they were going to be dead at midnight".
But living like that is hard. We tell ourselves it's human nature to plan for the future. If we truly lived like there was no tomorrow, we'd all be out partying and looting and killing our politicians and I'd be gang-raped by every nurse in the hospital (I'm joking. Partly). So maybe we can compromise. Maybe we can start by being nicer to each other. Because death hangs over all of us.
I'll be back next week. In the meantime, if you have any stories of what death means to you, please share them in the comments.