I had my emergency medicine rotation last month. The thing that is nice about the rotation is that you see the same things over and over, chest pain, SOB, and ETOH abuse. Yet there was one patient where I knocked on the door entered and came out changed for life.
I looked down at my nursing notes and saw that the nurse had written the chief complaint down as 27 y/o female headache and vomiting x 2 days. Yet, as I walked through the door I instantly knew that this was more than just a headache. The woman I met I will call, Cynthia, for the sake of privacy. She was a 27 y/o female who told me quite blatantly she has metastatic breast cancer with brain mets and a two year-old child waiting for her at home. I just stood there looking at her radiant smile, her right eye that twitched every 30 sec, her right sided facial droop that was only evident when she smiled, and the look in her eye that I recognized as sheer fear. Her little bald head from rounds of chemotherapy reminded of fresh grass in the spring with sprouts sporadically popping up. Yet, as I began to talk to her I realized that she was sick, and worse of all she was dying.
There are times in medicine where we step back and have to collect ourselves because the emotion is just too strong. I left the room and staffed this patient with the attending physician and promptly excused myself to the bathroom. I remember going to the dingy bathroom with the dim lighting and turning on the faucet. I remember I just stood there looking at myself in the mirror tears streaming down my face. I just felt so helpless, like a child, staring at myself in the mirror. I just kept thinking how that woman lying in that bed could be me. I wondered how many times Cynthia had told herself I will do that when I have more time or more money. I just wanted to ask her about all the things she wanted to do with her life. The experiences she was going to miss. I thought about all the things I put off. The opportunities I just let slip through my fingers because like most 27 year olds I feel like I will always have more time.
I think missed moments and opportunities are the single greatest regrets of my life. The truth is I read this book over my travels last week called Extremely Close and Incredibly Loud by Jonathan Froer. It truly is an artistic masterpiece, looking at the life of a 9 year-old boy after his father is killed in 911. It truly speaks to the things we wish we would have said but did not. It moved me so much that I was the lone girl crying on the airplane to Portland,OR. The stewardess came up to me and asked me if I was alright. I just responded I am just really moved.
I look at myself and I will never forget walking into my grandmother's room after she had returned from the hospital. It was late and I had just stopped by the house after one of my friend's mother's funeral. I will remember everything about this night for as long as I live. My grandmother looked so peaceful sleeping in her old antique bed. Her make-up was off giving her a porcelain like look, but of course, her hair looked perfect due to the fact she was wearing her wig in bed. I remember gently shaking her and saying. "Hey Grams. " She smiled and said, " Hey sweetie." I just remember I told her I didn't want to bother her. I kissed her on the head, and said the last words I ever said to my grandmother, "Love ya." I play this night over and over in my head. If I would have known that this would have been the last time I would have seen my grandmother alive I would have done so many things differently. I would have sat on her bed all night telling her how much she meant to me, reliving our many adventures, and listening to the stories of her life.
Yet this sort of stuff happens everyday. We all sit around and say you know when I have more money, more stability, and more time I will do this. Yet I argue that the opportunities are all around us. It is the guy that you met that was different than the others, but you were to afraid to ask for his number. It is the financial venture you didn't take. It is the family you love to avoid. Missed moments happen all the time and quite frankly second chances are rarities in life. Thus I encourage you this holiday and into the New Year to seize the opportunity and say the things you want to say. Do the things you have always wanted to do. And most of all don't be afraid to live the life you have always wanted. Time is a fair weather friend and who knows what tomorrow may bring.