The Art of Caring
Marc Tumerman, MD
110,000 patient encounters and 1,000 deliveries ago, I was a first-year medical student in Carbondale, IL. It was there that I experienced my first death. Mr. Anderson was 32 years old and had died instantly while riding his motorcycle without a helmet. My most vivid memory is of his left leg lying perpendicular to his body. My take-home lesson was that I would never ride a motorcycle, nor would any of my unborn children. I was young and not very wise or reflective. Since then, I have seen and recall many deaths: a beautiful 16-year-old girl with streptococcal-induced respiratory distress syndrome, an unborn child, a newly born child, a 53-year-old man with chronic hepatitis C, a kind 80-year-old Southern belle with lung cancer, a 59-year-old electrician who arrested in my office, and many others.
When I was young, I hardened myself to death. I told myself it was what you deal with as a physician. I had to move on, compartmentalize, focus, and care for my living patients. My duty was to keep patients healthy, heal the sick, and defeat death at all costs. I never questioned this and rarely, if ever, looked back. Dying became that failed state that was to be avoided at all costs, except when it could not.