A few days ago I sat and held the hand of a soon-to-die man who was anxiously looking forward to it. He didn't want to be in the hospital but didn't want to go home. When the young resident finally got frustrated with the old mans' repeated answer of "just let me die, dammit" to all the interventions suggested, I finally stepped in and suggested that we admit the gentleman overnight until his primary doctor could come in since they had an established history and knew exactly what the patients' wishes were for end of life care. The resident agreed although I think it was partly out of relief that the decision was taken out of his hands and partly because he didn't know how to deal with someone who didn't want to get better. Either way, he wrote the admission orders for comfort care and left.
Since I was floating that night and it was a ridiculously slow shift, I pulled up a chair and sat with the man. He told me stories of when he was in the military and met his beautiful wife, how she had a sailor mouth worse than his, and how she was "such a classy broad" who was a down home country girl who took none of his shit yet could doll up with the best of them. He told me of their adventures around the world. He cried when he told me of their struggle with cancer years ago. She beat it once, but eventually it came back. When he was quiet for few minutes, I said nothing. "I'm not looking forward to dying," he said, "but I just can't wait to see her again and give her hell for leaving me so soon."
Together we went through a box of shitty hospital tissues - mostly by him, but I used my fair share too.
Before he went upstairs to his bed he asked me to put the rail down for a minute. I helped him stand up, thinking he needed assistance to the bathroom or maybe to straighten out his sheets. Instead he gave me a great big bear hug and hung on for a few minutes. He thanked me from the bottom of his heart. I told him I'd come see him in a few days when I was back, and he replied that he hoped I was too late.
The next time I worked I called the floor to find out if he was still in that same room. They told me he died a few hours after I sent him up there.
I've become a cynical, jaded person over the past few years. The daily grind of the ER sometimes beats me down and makes me question why I choose to work in a field where I'm verbally abused, often in danger of physical violence, surrounded by people who try to manipulate me into dilaudid or bus tickets or free meals, see ungrateful and entitled people who take advantage of the system, and deal with generally horrible people who have no concept of what it means to be decent. But this man makes me remember why I chose to work in this field. Because every now and then, I get to meet someone like him and truly make a difference.