I saved both of my grandmothers. One, I helped live. The other, I helped die.

Doctors found a large mass in my maternal grandmother’s abdomen. It was curable, they said, and with surgery she should do well. As a third-year medical resident, I was elected by the family to fly to Montreal, where I would keep a medical “eye on things.” The surgery went smoothly; we all breathed a sigh of relief. The next day, we went to the hospital for what we expected would be a quick goodbye on our way to the airport. But something was wrong.

She couldn’t talk and mumbled incoherently. It was Thanksgiving Day and there was only a skeleton staff present. Her urine bag was empty and the blood pressure cuff in the room didn’t register a pressure. My worst fears were confirmed. She was in septic shock, dying.

I learned to work in new ways with my patients to make sure that they understood the meaning of life prolongation.

No doctors were answering their pagers, so I commandeered the floor nurse. My grandmother needed fluid, I told her, a lot of fluid, or she would surely die. I managed to convince her, and the nurse began a rapid infusion of fluids. I then paged the physician myself, explaining the urgent situation. My grandmother was prepped and draped in the operating room within 30 minutes. A four-hour surgery ensued.She went on to live another 10 years, saw the birth of two grandchildren, and died with her children at her side.

My other grandmother died a decade and a half later. By that time, I had been practicing ICU medicine for years, and I was as aggressive at lifesaving as a Saint Bernard. But I had also acquired another skill—one I had not needed with my first grandmother. I now knew how to help the dying die. (…) Read Full Article Here
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