Today, I heard my patient’s incoherent yells before I even entered her room. “Hai muoi hai tuoi!” (“Twenty-two years old!”). Ages, numbers that made no sense. Approaching my patient’s bedside at the hospice, I saw that her curtains had been drawn around her. As soon as she saw me, she begged me to bring her water. I was used to this – her brain tumor medication made her endlessly thirsty, and most of my visits would consist of me trying to fend off her demands for water and distract her with watching Vietnamese singing shows, painting her nails, or looking through photo albums of her wedding. I quickly opened a cup of sealed water and handed it to her, but she yelled for two more, even pointing to the lotion bottles at her bedside. Upon talking to the nurse, he told me that it seemed that her tumor had progressed. She had just been switched to a new medication and had been agitated the entire night. Her roommates had complained of noise, headaches, and an inability to sleep, and everyone was at a loss of what to do. It seemed as if the presence of people around her seemed to excite her more, causing her to beg anyone she could for water. As a result, the nurses had chosen to pull the curtains closed and let her lay alone. After trying to attend to her for half an hour and only seeing her become further agitated, I, too, left.
Yet, throughout this all, I was plagued with an overwhelming feeling of discomfort. If we are unable to help someone, are we to simply leave them alone and ignore their cries? Do we ignore problems hoping they will disappear or that someone else will deal with them? We seek to provide comfort, but when is it okay to give up? What was the right thing to do? I wish I knew.