You died last night. It was unexpected; you had been so bright the day before, but expected: you were seriously unwell and I didn’t expect you to ever leave hospital. Last time I saw you I was taking some blood the day before, and I remember sitting at your wrist taking the blood and just making conversation, cracking jokes, trying to keep your spirits up. You laughed a couple of times and it was fantastic that despite the CCU bed, being stuck with a needle and days of struggling to breathe you still could.
I filled out your death certificate this morning (1a: congestive cardiac failure b: morbid obesity, c: diabetes mellitus, 2: atrial fibrillation and hypertensive heart disease). Medical notes are cold, factual things, but reading your set I saw that someone had written in them after you died. A nurse had put that your family were with you, and that you were comfortable, and that you had been moved to a side room so you and your family would not be disturbed. I don’t know who she was, the nurse, who she is, but my thanks to her. Thanks for taking a hard, cold, binary moment and softening the edges, for her humanity, and for her reminder to think beyond the facts. Remember the person.
I didn’t, couldn’t, add anything but the diagnostic truth to your death certificate, or the crem form that came after, and I’m sorry if they are unflattering. There is no room for sentimentality in professional legality. I will, however, be paid for the crem form and I’ll have a drink on you, if I may; a silent toast to you and your memory, to the nurse in the night who changed the last hours of your life for the better, and to the jokes we shared over a sharps bin and tourniquet. You were dying, and we both knew that, but you kept your sense of humour. What a thing that is.
The other thing I have to accept is that I will forget you. I imagine that within a fortnight I will not remember your name, a month will pass and I will not recall your face. I will forget everything about you within a year, except that I will have this text about a nameless patient and a nameless nurse who made a difference. You will fade into the background murmur of all the learning I do on this job and in that way, the experience we had will live on for the remainder of my career. I’m sorry it can’t be more specific, but I have the living to care for now.
All the best. Rest in peace.