One of the things that surprised me about palliative care in the beginning was how happy the team members seemed to be. Everyone on the service has been consistently cheerful, and the days have been filled with laughter and utterly inappropriate jokes that can only be appreciated by people who spend their days surrounded by death. The mood of the team has been almost enough to make me forget about the suffering that we deal with every day.
But today it got to me. Maybe it was the cumulative effect of three weeks of moving patients from the list of people we're following to our list of the deceased. Maybe it was finally changing my longest-standing patient from active treatment to palliation. Maybe it was being witness to a death, my first on the service, rather than simply hearing about it after the fact. Whatever the trigger, today was a day that left me feeling drained and world-weary.
I was reminded today of the attraction of actively treating patients, of the appeal of being involved with sustaining life. It's comforting to believe that if you merely pick the right therapy, or if medical science only develops the right new drug, that you can prevent anyone from dying. When I started medical school, that was what I naively believed - that if we could just throw enough time and money into research that we could cure all illnesses and somehow escape death. My work on palliative care is a constant reminder of life's finite nature, and some days it is just so inescapably sad.
So tonight I'm self-soothing, indulging in warm cardigans and cold chocolate ice cream and hot baths filled with smelly bubbles. Instead of devoting my evening to textbooks and spending time with friends in need, I'm immersing myself in the happiness and superficiality of Glee. Some at-home escapism to get me through the last three weeks before vacation. It's not the wisest way of spending my evening, but at the moment it's about all that I'm capable of.