The day she was admitted, she became known for her expression of a deer caught in headlights. I saw fear in her eyes, a fear of the days to come as her disease was progressing.
I always related fear with the unknown, until I saw her with the fear of the known. She was afraid, she was aware, and she looked like a deer caught in headlights.
To some, their eyes are windows to their souls; you can see in their eyes your own destiny. Others have eyes which remind us of windows with curtains, limitations of their bodies with their fears blinding them from living in the present moment.
I knew her and her disease, her diagnosis and the prognosis of what she had. She was suffering from a drug and radiation resistant cancer. To see her suffering from a cancer which was changing her to someone slowly drifting away from life as her systems were shutting who was always in pain with no appetite, losing weight and hair, was not easy. She was down, as if she was a computer with an infected hard drive. One of the challenges we faced was her inquisitive nature. She wanted to live a little bit more. She had many questions about her disease, treatment options, and prognosis.The dilemma in caring for her was one of a kind; the knowing of not knowing, the awareness of hopelessness and the certainty of failure regardless of cutting edge technology with our best efforts. The feeling of not being able to do much as a doctor while dealing with an aggressive cancer brought paralyzing emotions of lost hopes and powerlessness; a sense of not being able to do the job with grace.
To keep fighting with the armaments of modern day medicine with a sense of going in circles hoping to prolong life when tomorrows become uncertain, test the resilience of the soul in a dying body. But clearly there is always a hope to die in dignity. The concept of end of life care, staying at home surrounded by loved ones rather than an assigned room number, is probably the safest bet to inject some sense of control and the possibility of a dignified death when medical treatments have limitations of care and cure. I wonder what if I would have told her sooner when I realized that there was no hope to prolong life, but there was hope to pass on in dignity. Life is not easy to live she knew; the pain of hanging on was severe but she wanted to hang in there and to fight to live.
She was dying in the hospital with her husband by her side, and he was there all the time as were we. She was asked if there was anything that she wanted to have. She asked for a glass of wine and her husband got it for her.
I remember that afternoon, she had wine and we browsed through her photo-albums of world-wide cruises, and pictures of waves and winds, rains and storms. She looked at me with a smile and rather strangely said, “I am glad I met you at this time, I can't thank you enough” and told me that “everything will be fine”, as her faith has guided her throughout her last days. I felt tears in my eyes; no words, no voice, our silence said it all.
I wonder how, while most lose hope, some take their gloves off and raise their arms up while kneeling down believing in the teaching of ask, so it shall be granted. This may be a holistic approach to gain some hope for patients while they are contemplating the proposed medical treatments. The scientific mind may argue about the variability of results of the power of prayer, but those who know the science of it will keep doing what has always worked and always will.