There are midwives for birth and for death. They are people who lovingly accompany those in transition—watching over and supporting them as they do the work of giving birth or passing from this life. Sometimes that means being a discerning and strong protector—like a Mama bear…
He looked to be about twenty years old but introduced himself as a doctor when he briskly walked through her door, clutching a chart under his arm. We nodded as he walked over and stood by my friend’s bedside.
“Hello Carly,” he said.
“Uh, that’s not her name.”
“Ahem,” he replied, clearing his throat, looking puzzled as he shuffled the sheaf of papers in his hand. He then spoke in a very loud voice to my friend who was dying and unresponsive. “So, how are you doing? Fine? Good. Very good,” he said in one rushed breath.
I glared at him and moved to the edge of my chair.
He continued to chat. “So, you guys are Buddhist, huh? Right on. I went to Dharamsala once when I was twenty-one. It was great.”
That’s it; you’re done here. “Thank you for your time. We’ll let you know if we need anything,” I said, as I gently but swiftly escorted him out the door.
The next morning, as we sat quietly around her bed, holding a silent vigil during the final day of my friend’s life, the door opened and the doctor burst into the room. My hand shot out as if to say, Halt right there, buddy! “No need to come in; we’re fine. There is nothing more to do now,” I said, quietly but firmly.
“But I need to go in there. I have to write a progress note in her chart,” he declared.
“Well… Have a look, but please, do not say a word. Her wish was for silence, if possible, and asked that no one touch her unnecessarily during these final hours.”
He stood at the foot of her bed and stared at her for about thirty seconds, then abruptly left the room. I tiptoed out with him. In the hallway, he turned to face me, looking confused. “Are you mad at me?”
“Mad? Goodness no; I’m not mad at you. This is not about you or me; this is about her. She is actively dying, and this is probably the last day of her life. I am here as a midwife, a hospice nurse, a friend, and a mother bear to honor her request that I accompany her in these final hours, to be a protector and help safeguard her passage as she departs from this world.
I looked at him. He was so young, and I could see that he had integrity and was well intentioned—a good person. “Do you have a minute?” I asked. He nodded and we walked to a quiet area. “I have no doubt that you are an excellent doctor, but there are subtleties they might not teach in medical school. They make a big difference. First—get their name straight before you come into the room. Second—don’t ask a question that they obviously can’t answer and then try to answer it for them. Seriously. She is actually not fine; she is dying. Third—please don’t indulge in idle chitchat in front of a patient. Don’t do that. It’s not respectful. Take a breath. Show up. Connect, even if you’re only there for two minutes. Patients will respond to that kind of presence, even if they appear to be no longer conscious.”
He stood quietly for a while and then replied softly, “I was completely mindless when I walked in there. Thank you. You’re right. We learn many things, but not how to be with patients.” We hugged and he slowly continued his rounds. I watched him pause and take a good, long look at the chart before he entered the next room.