How Doctors Die

Posted on March 15, 2012 by


I spent the final hours of 2011 in the hospital that has become my second home. Christmas was my holiday this year, and when the assignments for the New Year’s block were sent out by my residency program, I discovered I would be working nights, admitting patients to the oncology service.  Onc nights can be unbelievably busy, or unbelievably slow–you just never know.  As I waited for my pager to go off, alerting me to a new patient in the Emergency Department, I idly scrolled through my gmail account, dashing off emails to friends in many different time zones, some of whom had already started 2012.

And then a new message popped up in my inbox from my friend, an anesthesia resident at the same hospital and also on-call overnight.  “Check this out,” she said.  The title of the essay was “How Doctors Die.”

Half an hour later, I had forwarded the link to everyone in my address book.

There is no easy way to face death.  There are no words that make the horrifying unfairness of a disease like cancer any less painful.  But in the middle of the night, when forced to ponder what I would do if faced with the same circumstances as many of my patients, I couldn’t help but wish that the honesty of Ken Murray’s essay was a part of the conversation.