I had a hour long drive to go visit a new home hospice patient.  She lives with her family in a very small town. I passed many farm fields covered with ice and snow to get to the town.  I found her street and recognized her home easily. I had already heard that this little town had surprised she and her family by building them a new home.

Jackie was diagnosed with lymphoma last year, and has had the most aggressive therapy available for this aggressive form. She and her husband had bought an old farm house and were in the process of fixing it up when she was diagnosed.  While gone for 3 months, away from her kids, getting a bone marrow transplant, the town had volunteered and built a magnificent home.

I walked up to the front, passing bikes strewn in the snow and rubber balls hidden behind bushes. I felt myself growing sad just walking to the door.

Jackie is my age, with 5 children, ages 2 1/2 up to 12.  MY AGE and dying.

Jackie’s husband welcomed me in, to more Christmas chaos with decorations and wrapping paper around.  Jackie was able to walk out to greet me for just a few minutes before retiring to bed from exhaustion and nausea.  Her hair short, having just started to grow back after chemo. Face thin, having lost 50 lbs.

It was a hard visit. For the first time, I sensed tremendous distrust in me as a young hospice physician. Perhaps it was anger on her part at my life, or just the weariness of fighting so hard to beat something impossible to beat.  Regardless, there was a lot of tension in that house.

It’s so different when I work with young patients vs. older one’s. Young patients often keep hoping for miracles. Comments her husband made led me to believe that they both are still expecting she’ll be cured, even with all medicines now stopped.  There’s often more escapism in young people as well.  When it gets so hard to face the reality of being a mother of 5 and dying, it becomes easier to take medicines to go to sleep.  She’s avoiding the pain, with drugs, but meanwhile loosing the precious time she has left with her family living.

Usually I leave visits feeling good, but not this day.  Passing the bikes again, I had a heavy heart.

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