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.