A 92-year-old woman, living at a nursing home, had multiple medically severe diagnoses. Her major problem was that all of her friends, her husband and even two of her children had died. She also suffered from shortness of breath, fatigue, pain and swelling of her legs (due to heart failure).
Lately, she had been losing weight and lost her spirit. Her relatives and the staff at the nursing home were worried, they called her doctor who concluded that she was depressed, put her on antidepressants, more potent medication for her heart failure, and energy rich food substitutes, which she hated but drank anyway since both her loved ones and the staff thought it was so very important.
Then another doctor became responsible for the nursing home, an experienced family physician. She sat down and talked to the woman about her life for maybe 15 minutes, the woman had been a dancer. It was the first time they met.
The physician asked her ”Are you done with dancing?” - the woman sighed with relief and said ”Yes, I am.” They looked at each other and suddenly they both bursted into laughter.
The physician leaned towards the woman, and said ”You know, you don’t have to take all these pills and injections, or the awful energy drinks that we offer you. It’s your call. And I will be your doctor no matter what you chose.”
The woman died a month later. I was fortunate enough to be just a meter away from this conversation, as an intern following an experienced colleague. To watch the respectful intimacy between these two women had a huge impact on my understanding of the meaning of being a doctor.