My patient was an elderly man who tripped and hit his head in a minor fall. It was only a big deal because he was taking the blood thinner, Coumadin, to keep his artificial heart valve from clotting off. People on this medicine can bleed into their brains and die after minor trauma that would normally cause no serious injury at all.
As feared, within minutes, his minor fall turned into a deadly hemorrhage around his brain. Though we did everything we could to reverse the effects of the Coumadin and save his life, it was clear that he was in big trouble. I enlisted help from the appropriate specialists then made arrangements for him to be admitted to the hospital.
When I went into the family room to tell waiting family members the bad news, who was sitting there but a friend of mine from church? The patient was his father.
Delivering bad news to family is always a bit dicey. When you throw in a personal connection, it makes it more difficult but more interesting and potentially more rewarding too. Our interactions in the family room were warm and satisfying. My friend understood his father was going to die and thanked me for my efforts in his behalf. I took him to be with his father.
The patient went on to die the next day so his whole huge family started heading into town for the funeral. My wife, as president of the women’s’ organization at church, contacted the family to offer assistance. Besides arranging for rolls and dessert for 200 people for the family dinner at the church, we also offered our house to help them put up members of their immediate family. The wife, her two daughters, two sons-in-law and three grandkids stayed in our three spare bedrooms until the funeral was over and they headed back to Las Vegas.
Who would have guessed, as I headed into the trauma room that night, that it would lead to having my house full of family members mourning the loss of my patient?
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