The Lancet Student

Latest blog post:Till death do us part.

This blog was submitted by GodetCamille on 8th July 2015.
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I’m a fifth year medical student from France and I want to share with you a remarkable human experience from my placement in a general medical department two months ago.

I have always been convinced that ethical, moral and human values are integral to us as medical students. Humanity but also understanding, respect and empathy with others guide me in my clinical practice. I want to be guided by concern for patients’ complete well-being: physical and mental at the same time.

I also think that in this exceptional relationship between patients and healthcare providers, such as nurses, nursing auxiliaries, doctors, and medical students, each detail can be fundamental.

It was the middle of my placement when a married couple arrived on the ward. They were both around 65 years old, though she was a little bit younger than him.

She had had a cerebrovascular accident when she was 45 years old and suffered from the classical sequelae that every medical student will recognize: hemiplegia, aphasia and residual pains in the disabled limbs. In spite of this tragedy, I remember vividly her perseverance to maintain independence.

Her husband had fallen into a coma three weeks previously from which he had emerged in the ICU before his admission to the ward. He was also struggling with end-stage lymphoma, malnutrition and pneumonitis.

Until his admission he had taken care of his wife on his own, without any assistance. At the same time he had become unwell, their only child died in an accident. Unlike him, his wife was aware of this tragedy.

They were finally hospitalized in the same room because she was absolutely unable to stay alone at home until he recovered.

Days went by and his condition worsened. His nasogastric tube didn’t remain in place; he lost a lot of weight and didn’t speak a lot. His wife was aware of his condition even if she didn’t realize the seriousness of the situation.

The week before I left the department, both his haematologist and the head of the department suggested a conservative approach, noting the likely futility of further aggressive life-sustaining therapy. He was dying. He was dying next to his wife.

The most moving of this sad but true story is the rest. It was my last day in the department and I visited them in the morning when something caught suddenly my attention. They had been married for years and they were now sharing the same room but without any contact between them. Even looking into each other’s eyes was difficult because of the room’s arrangement.

I decided to move some furniture to bring the lady closer to her husband. Her armchair was eventually next to his bed, on his right side, enabling them to make eye contact and to hold hands. When I told them that I was about to leave the department, I had in each of my hands one of their hands and I put theirs together.

I will never forget this out-of-time moment which is certainly one of the most intense I’ve ever experienced. Above all I’ll never forget the depth of their gaze. Still today I remember all the things I read in them.

In hers, it was gratitude for having enabled her to be close to her husband. In his, it was a blend of fear, confusion and sadness.

And in mine, I must admit that I nearly cried in front of this moment of humanity.