Monday, July 12, 2010

Chance Encounter ("Paradoxically" Part II)

The more people you encounter as part of your routine ongoings in medicine, the more people you forget (inevitably, due to statistical likelihoods and all..). Every now and then you meet someone memorable and sometimes find yourself thinking, "I wonder what happened to..?". This is particularly the case, I think, in emergency medicine where the duration of a patient encounter will total a few hours, if that, and then the patient is transferred to someone elses' care, discharged home or (as the case has been for several of my patients), taken from us by the Almighty upstairs. So, this afternoon at the dentist's, I was presented with a chance encounter of the fateful type - I was reunited with the wife of the gentleman who died of a cardiac event a few months ago while I was doing a night shift in ED.. the one whom I had informed of her husband's passing on that tragic night. She recognised me before I had even noticed her standing there, and then when I looked up and saw her looking at me, all she had to say was, "my husband.." for that night to come rushing back. It wasn't an unhappy encounter and not completely awkward like you would expect it to be, but there was certainly an air of unease as we exchanged our greetings and how do you dos. I found it hard to tailor my body language appropriately to the situation - should I smile? should I sigh? should I just nod curtly to everything she says? How on earth does one converse to a deceased patient's family members, many weeks post-mortem? She talked about his death and how the hurt hadn't eased one bit - certainly her affect and tone were as sorrowful as that night, and the painful self-imposed guilt was still there: "if only we'd gotten him to the doctor sooner, if only...". We also talked about the coroner's insistence on an autopsy despite the family's wishes for an immediate burial and other smatterings of small chat, as you do. She cried, I listened and offered her the untested advice that it will get better one day. So then we went our seperate ways, wished each other well and hoped for another chance encounter. A small step towards closure that is often missed in this profession, a little poetic too, don't you think?