Thursday, February 19, 2015


Cancer sucks. I hate being in the room when the patient gets news that his recent metastases are growing exponentially. It's hard to look at his face when he realizes that his initial 18 month survival projection is far less than that now. It's even harder to look at the face of his wife. When they hold hands and he reassures her that he's just glad they'll make it to their 50th wedding anniversary later this month - and he's gonna go all out to make it their best one yet - I can't help but be angry, yet again, at cancer.

The patient looked over at me while I was setting up his PCA pump and asked if I was okay. How are you worried about me at this time? You're dying. You should be focusing all of your energy on yourself, your wife, your mortality. How can you still be so kind and thoughtful enough to make sure me, the nurse you've never met before three hours ago, is holding up?

The doctor asked a lot of questions, but the hardest one to hear is the DNR status. Sir, you're going to die. If you die today, what do you want us to do? Fight it? Let you go? How are you so calm about this? I'm angry for you. You shouldn't have to answer this question today. Why can't cancer have waited, or left you alone entirely? You should be on the golf course or out to dinner with your old lady, not confined to an uncomfortable ER bed with a nurse who is bitter on your behalf.

You and your wife had matching hair color. You were so proud of it, you tell me. It's gone now, and thanks a lot cancer. It takes everything, even the stupid stuff that it should ignore. Cancer sucks.


Laura J. said...

I always found it hardest to take care of the patients after surgery where we knew they had cancer, but they didn't yet. I'd have to act completely normal and say I didn't know anything about test results all the while knowing the tough road ahead for them. These people each and every one broke my heart.

girlvet said...

it does

These are some of the people I have the most empathy for.

knittynurse said...

I looked after a man about 6 months ago. He had tongue cancer and was in total denial about his prognosis. I spent time with them and organized the "right" supports but knew it was going to be fast. I ran into his wife this week. He only lasted a month after that and she was glad it was over. She missed him terribly but was relieved his suffering ended so soon. He did die the terrible death I could see coming. I wish I had been wrong. Cancer does suck.

Aesop said...

I actually had the ED doc tell a pt the sad news the other night, and actually use the C word.

I can count on my thumbs the number of times ED docs will actually do that, most opting to hem and haw and palm the news-giving off on surgeons and oncologists after admission.

It didn't help (me, anyway) that the pt.'s adult daughters and granddaughters were at the bedside when the bomb was dropped.

And then just for fun, the next day met a friend I hadn't seen in several months, and found out he has an operable cancerous brain tumor.

While I can try being poker-faced at work, I don't even attempt it around friends.

If this keeps up it could drive me to drink.