Bioethics Blogs

After the Loss of a Patient: Reflection and Connection Through Prose

By Hedy S. Wald

Lean machine of prose, stripped down to the essence, and a power-packed way to care for the caregiver… this was my experience of the 55-word story genre1 at a writing seminar. While I had some experience writing haiku, I was generally accustomed to reflective narratives3 as “story” so was nothing short of surprised when a compact 55-word prose “small jewel”2 about a patient who touched my heart and soul spontaneously emerged onto the paper.  It chilled me to the bone and warmed my heart. I was asked to read it aloud for the attendees – the hush afterward was a moment of sacred silence…

“Honoring Alan” I titled it…Alan I., MD was my patient on the rehab unit, the unit with the “vent” patients where I was the psychology consultant, where I provided supportive counseling.  Was my patient. Yes, he passed. But before that, despite the indignities and ravages of disease, he managed to muster the strength, both mental and physical, to undertake rehab exercises, vent and all.  And sometimes his devoted wife would be singing show tunes as he did so and I was in awe.  On tougher days, amidst the pop and swish sounds of the vent machine, I’d read poetry and see a flicker of brighter light in his eyes.  I may have imagined that, but I don’t think so – his wife told me he liked poetry.  Now, in another space, another time, he still liked poetry – sometimes. Before starting our sessions, I’d pause at his door to collect myself, to be able to enter the room intentionally4 as the combination of serious illness and ventilator posed challenges for a caring practitioner.

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.