Bioethics Blogs

Wait for it

By Tim Lahey

At 94, my patient V. was funny and flirtatious.  Her French accent made even the name of her life-threatening fungal infection sound poetic.

“DEE-seminated HEESTO-plasmo-sees,” she said, “Oaf the skin.”

I smiled.

I also admitted her to the hospital because our treatments were not working.  I hoped intensified wound care and antibiotics and a biopsy would help us turn things around.  A couple of days in the hospital would also, I knew, give us a chance to talk about whether all of this, any of this, was what she wanted…

As the infectious diseases fellow scurried around to see new consults, I snuck off to V.’s room.  Sometimes a visit to a favorite patient can help the hurry, the hard work, the constant interruptions, feel like no big deal.

We talked about how V. felt.  I looked at her skin and saw that her ulcers were worsening.  We talked about next steps.  And then she told me about the theft.

It was bad enough, she said, to share a nursing home room with “a daft old lady,” and to eat institutional meals.  But when her copy of Ron Chernow’s biography Alexander Hamilton disappeared one day, she said, “I shzust could not take it anymore!”

The nursing home staff had looked for the book – “Not so aard, I think,” said V. – but the book could not be found.  And so V. lost the ability to choose which story she would read.

By chance, I had just finished Chernow’s biography, and loved it.  I loved Hamilton’s pluck, his brilliance, his fevered writing.  I couldn’t stop watching as fate and his own weakness began to tear him down.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.