As a physician I have witnessed, touched and grappled with death. I have fought to bring my patients back to life, and I have had to let some go. Addressing death with my patients, usually the ones who are extremely sick, is not just challenging but also an honor. To understand what are the wishes of an individual when that moment comes is pivotal in their medical care.
I was not always comfortable talking about death; however, over time I have realized that until we understand and digest that one day we ourselves will perish, we can’t completely embrace life. To not be fearful that every moment we are getting closer to dying, rather embrace the time we have here, is where the secret lies. When I was able to understand this, my mindset shifted. I started looking at set backs as opportunities for growth, I started considering the good in every situation, and I began to free myself of both the good and bad opinions of others. I took control of my days and steered myself to richer experiences. All because I grasped that one-day I won’t be able to do it any more.
When I do get that 80-something-year-old with end stage heart failure, who I know may not have much longer to live, I make it a point to converse with them regarding how they envision the end of their life. Some say that if their heart stops beating they want everything done to help them live, while some request to let them go peacefully. The important part for a physician is to honor whichever path a patient desires. Being with a patient at this critical cross road motivates me to further grasp why some can make the decision to go expeditiously, yet others tend to struggle with the dialogue. What I have discovered is that the patients who can look back at their lives contently are usually the ones who can easily say goodbye.
The truth of the matter is that death can befriend any of us at any moment and that life would not be life without death. In accepting that our days are limited we are able to value our today, and this is why I believe it is crucial we start talking about death now. I am here to make the case that death is not morbid, that in understanding it we truly end up saving our lives.