Written by dear acquaintance, Dr. Moeen Masood:
Being a doctor, I see death on a frequent basis. I have been witnessing death since before the clinical rotations of the medical school even started. Often, I would go to the mortuary whenever a dead body was brought in. Death never bothered me. It doesn’t bother me to this day. It is a fact of life. It’s a fact of living.
Not too long ago, a wise grey-haired colleague of mine taught me something new. I came out of a patient’s room and sat down on the chair at the doctor’s station with the computer in front of me. Next to me, on another chair, in front of the computer was sitting Tony, the wise grey haired colleague. I was staring at the computer screen, when he asked me what the matter was. I looked at him and told him the sad story of the patient whose room I had just come out of. “Tony”, I said, “Life is not fair. This is a 39-year-old, until now healthy, had a first time seizure, brought to the ER and found to have an inoperable GBM (Glioblastoma Multiforme; a stage IV primary brain tumor)”!
Tony looked at me; a gaze full of wisdom of decades of medical practice and said, “Moeen, you probably don’t know this, but, birth is fatal” I looked at him and had no answer. Despite my almost three decades of neurological experience, I had never thought of birth being fatal. It truly is. But I had never thought of it in those terms. Death has stopped bothering me even more now. It’s sad. It’s life.
But, I am still bothered by suffering. Suffering still brings tears to my eyes. I, like many of you, have seen enough suffering in the medical field. One of the things that I have not been able to get used to is the suffering of a person going through a dementing illness. The suffering of the spouse and the children, yes; but most of all, the patient, who, in the early phase of the illness has enough insight to know and feel what is going on around him and the issues with his cognitive functions.
A day before the current Thanksgiving holiday i.e 2 days ago, I saw a 93-year-old patient of mine in follow-up. She was brought in to see me by her two daughters and daughter in law. She is in the early phase of Alzheimer’s disease and still aware of her surroundings. Recently, she has been getting lost while driving. Two weeks ago, she hit a pole in the parking lot as she got confused between the brake and the gas paddles. More recently, she went on to the curb with her car and then got stuck and the police were called.
I tell you, telling someone who they cannot drive is probably the second most difficult thing I do other than telling someone who they have ALS. It was heart breaking to hear her say, “But that’s my independence”! “I have been driving since I was 16 years old and I have never had an accident until these two, recently”. What do you say to her? How do you make her understand that she is putting herself and others in danger? She understood, but still couldn’t come to grip with the fact that her independence is being taken away by this doctor. It was heart breaking. It took me 40 minutes of convincing. Finally she agreed to give her keys to her daughter. She was generous; As I was walking her down the corridor to the patients’ waiting room, she stopped and turned to me and said, “Doc, I don’t know how long I will remember you, but I want to hug you for all that you have done”. She had tears in her eyes and my vision was blurry too. That suffering of hers was painful to see.
It happens to the best of us; Chronic diseases. But, dementia is one of the worst ones. The whole family suffers at different levels, for a lot of days. Sudden cardiac death is what I want for me and my loved ones; Amen to that.