Death is something most of us would rather not think about. It’s dark, mysterious, sad, final, lonely and cold. These may be some of the thoughts that come to mind when death is mentioned. In my experience as a doctor I have found that there is a lot that can be learnt about life from death.
At no time has this struck me more than on one occasion when I was on call at a local hospital. I was called to see a patient. It was a man in his mid-forties lying in the acute bay, unconscious. From his clothes and general appearance one could see that he was relatively well-off financially.
Apart from his shallow breathing there was no sign of life in him. He had a blank stare into the air and never blinked. I noticed there was no one by his bedside. Quickly looking through the notes by his bedside I learnt he was diabetic and had recently started taking medication for HIV.
I don’t know why exactly, but somehow I felt a lot of empathy for the man. Perhaps it was the perception that everyone seemed to have given up on him. The nurse had left me by now – she’d gone to attend to other patients who still had a fighting chance.
As I worked to put up an I.V line and gave him drugs and oxygen and try to figure out what the problem was I couldn’t help but think about his life. I wondered – where are his family, friends and relatives? Who brought him here? Why is there no one to be with him at this – probably the most desperate moment in his life? How did he get HIV? What circumstances and choices had led him down to this point where he was hanging on to life by a thread, and no one seemed to care?
Every now and then he would groan. I had heard groans many times before from unconscious patients, but now it was almost as though he was saying – “help me, please help me. About one and a half hours later when I was sure I had done all I could I left him and hoped for the best. Still I couldn’t help thinking about him.
Less than half an hour later I went back to check on him. His breathing was better and I could see his half-open eyes follow me as I moved around him. That was encouraging. I was about to move away when his hand gently grabbed at my wrist. He mumbled something but I could not understand him.
Moving my head closer to his I said: “What’s the problem?” There was a pause. He took a few breaths, and then whispered a shrill “Thank You.”“You’re welcome,” I said and walked away.
I was so touched. This man, in these circumstances with the odds stacked against him, thought to say thank you.
I wish I could tell you that this story had a happy ending. I wish I could tell you that he got better and that I got to know more about him. I wish I could tell you that he got another chance. I am the last person he spoke to. Two hours later, I certified him dead.
I felt like I had let him down. The truth was I had done all I could have done.
Before and even after him I have seen many people die. I often wonder – if they had known that today was the last day of their life, how would they have spent it? What would they have done with those last few precious moments?
LIVE EACH DAY LIKE IT’S YOUR LAST.
A saying we’ve all heard before, but few of us have actually given it any thought. Living each day like it’s your last:
- Forces you to think about your priorities.
- It forces you to quit the things that waste your time and energy and to concentrate on the most important things and people in your life.
- If you live that way you make better choices, you treasure each moment and suck the life out of every hour.
- It removes the clutter and garbage that so often chokes our lives.
Living each day like it’s your last is not about living in gloom and fear of death. Rather it is about:
- Grabbing every opportunity.
- Not procrastinating.
- Doing today what you could put off till tomorrow.
- Reaching out to your dreams today.
- Not letting another moment pass you by.
- Living life to the full.
It’s living your life so that when your time comes to go, someone will care and someone will say their life is different and their life is better…because YOU were there.