What did you do this summer?

Heather Konstanzer: Hospital Virgen de la Luz, Spain

Strength has the ability to make or break a patient. This has never been more evident to me than when I had the privilege of meeting a twenty-three year old patient who was in the final days of her battle with cervical cancer. On the first day of my Oncology rotation, I met this young woman. Her ashen skin and extreme weakness indicated to me, the gravity of her situation. The doctor expected that she would pass by the end of the week. Although in high school I had spent time volunteering in hospice, I had never before interacted with such a young person, to whom death was so imminent. As a palliative measure, the doctor decided that they would attempt a paracentesis to remove some of the ascitic fluid that had accumulated in her abdomen. The first attempt to perform this procedure caused a significant amount of discomfort and frustration, and ultimately was unsuccessful. After visiting the patient each day that week, she and I developed a rapport, although we did not speak the same language. I became a familiar face and a welcome guest in her room.  My final day on the unit, the doctor again, attempted the paracentesis. My patient’s condition had greatly declined over the past few days and she was much more weak and fatigued. The procedure was much more difficult to watch this time and surrounded by caring nurses and her family, the patient endured. Hearing her moan in pain ripped at my heart, leaving me feeling helpless and useless. After several failed attempts to located and draw the fluid from her abdomen, the doctor woefully resigned. An air of defeat hung in the room and nearly everyone had teardrops pooling on the corners eyes. Although there was a language barrier between the patient and I, I wanted to communicate both my empathy for her predicament and the extent to which her bravery had inspired me. I approached the edge of her bed, took her hand and said “fuerte.” Although, at the time, I was not entirely sure that this was correct, I had learned the word for strong earlier in the week after watching a Neuro doctor perform a patient assessment. Fuerte. The patient looked up at me; she and I communicated with our eyes and I could tell there was a level of understanding. I am truly blessed to have been a presence for even such a small portion of her life and am humbled by what she shared with me.

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