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  • Writer's picturemichelledangmd

The First

You always remember the first one.

July is the start of the year for medical residents. The joke is that you never want to have to go to the hospital July 1st because that's when the newly minted graduates of medical school roam the hospitals. Sometimes, these graduates are barely 25 years old and they're in charge of your life!

I was an intern on my first rotation of residency that month - internal medicine wards. It was July 20, so I had nearly 3 weeks under my belt of being a doctor. That night, I got a page to call a patient. I called my resident. What does that mean? My resident told me that it meant a patient was deceased and I had to check their reflexes and call the time of death.

I went to the floor and asked the nurses to direct me to the patient's room. The door was halfway shut. I gently pushed it open with my hand and peered into the dim room. There was a man in his 60s sitting up in the bed. It was eerily quiet. I'm used to there being some sort of sounds, whether it's the beeping of the pulse ox or people and activity in the room, or... the sound of breath.

There was nothing.

I pulled out my stethoscope and listened to his chest. I felt for a pulse. I checked his eye reflexes.

There was nothing.

I felt this unease in my chest. I called the time of death. I sat down at the nurse's station and opened up the chart in the computer to write my death note. I still felt an unease and couldn't quite place it.

I suddenly felt this rush inside of me and realized that I was thinking of my grandfather. He had passed away the summer before I started medical school. When he was called, there was so much activity in the room. There were at least a dozen family members there with him, some even in the hallway. He was surrounded by love and light despite it being his time.

I wanted to know more about this patient, who died in a sterile hospital room, alone. I wished that I could have been there when he passed. I hoped that he did not feel alone at that time. Over the years, I have had several family members pass. I have had many patients pass since that time.

But I've never forgotten the first one.

Intern Year, July 2007

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