Today I filled out my first death certificate.

That is not counting the joke one I filled out during my clerkship orientation in which one of my school friends died from suffocation after being sat on by one of Santa’s reindeer.  Also of note, her profession was elf at Santa’s workshop in the North Pole (postal code HOH OHO).

This was a real death certificate with a real person and a real family.  And although I have been around all sorts of people when they died, this was the first person I actually had to do the whole death certificate thing for.

The staff thought I was sweet because when they called to tell me the person had died, I asked if her family was around.  I haven’t lost that “personal touch,” apparently.  I really don’t want to lose the personal touch.

I didn’t know the patient or family until this weekend.  But, I cared for them while I was on call and grew to quite like all of them.  You don’t like everyone, but you can try to get their background and where they were coming from.  But, these were a group of lovely, sensible people.  It was good to see a cohesive family.  A “good” death.

I had a very busy weekend and a good chunk of it was spent with this crew.  And despite the initial stress, it was well worth it.  To know they had time together.  That the patient was comfortable, that her family was comfortable.  That we all did what we could.

It was my first death certificate and it won’t be my last.  This was clearly why I went into medicine.  Not the piece of paper, but the experience of caring for someone in their last days and hours.  It is well worth the administrative things and bit of lost sleep to be in this position.


6 thoughts on “First

  1. In this sense, you’re braver than I am. I’ve filled out a death certificate – or co-filled, since I’m not allowed to sign it for legislative purposes yet. And… as much as I know we can make their last moments good, I am still not really emotionally fit for it. Keep doing what you’re doing!

    • It was the first one I could both fill out and sign… Pretty crazy.
      The moments are really special when you are with people at that time. But, it isn’t for everyone. It does get a bit easier with time, though. At least that is what I found.

  2. Filling out death certificates should never become routine. Some may argue that death is expected and thus routine in Oncology, but I argue that when things become “routine” or “standard” we lose sight of it being an individual’s death. Some person with loved ones, hopes, and dreams.

    I too value that “personal touch”. Hold on to it fiercely, treasure your interactions with patients and their support people and keep being a “human” resident with a caring heart. If we lose those qualities that make us good as oncologists, then we risk becoming physicians that look for routine and come to maybe even expect routine cases. After all isn’t that “personal touch” ultimately what the art and practice of medicine is all about?

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