I used to think that I was drawn to hospice practice because I wasn't one of those doctors that had to fix everything. I'm comfortable with the incurable, the insoluble, the chronic and unremitting. I don't see death as a failure of my medical skills. Nope, not me. I'm not like that. I don't have a personal need to cure.
Except....I do still have a need to fix things. I don't feel compelled to cure; I feel compelled to relieve suffering. I need to make pain go away, ease shortness of breath, make the nausea stop. I need the furrowed brow and the tense muscles to relax. I need to make things better. And most of the time we can. We have morphine and humor and steroids and Haldol and ice packs and Ativan and massage therapy and music and pets and chaplains and social workers and aromatherapy and our own presence. When our patients are suffering, we can bring comfort.
It's more challenging to bring comfort to the families. Pain goes away. Grief must be borne. We can provide some companionship and support; in the end, though, grief is a solitary journey. A husband's tears or a daughter's anxiety leave me feeling powerless in a way that the patient's pain and shortness of breath do not. I want to do something, and I know I just need to stand there.
Today was a little different. Today, oddly enough, two different family members needed something I could give them. Something simple and available and entirely over-the-counter. They needed water. Twice this afternoon, I walked down the hall to our ice machine and filled a cup with ice and water, carefully placed a lid on top and collected a straw. I brought the cups back to the quiet rooms and placed them in the waiting hands. And I felt much better.