How to heal the human soul?


When I started writing this blog, I wanted to give people something to smile about. Maybe something to show people that medicine can be difficult, but it can also be a lot of fun. Last night one patient reminded me that medicine isn’t always so fun.

A poor old guy got brought in by ambulance after pulling out his dialysis catheter. He got mad and did it on purpose. Told his wife he didn’t want to live anymore and just yanked it out.
“Why did you do it?” I asked, already knowing the answer.
He looked me square in the eye and matter-of-factly said “I’m sick of living, doc. I’d just rather be dead.”
I asked him what his wife thought about all this.
“It’s not about her, it’s about me. I’m a burden to her. Look at me — I’m 67, have diabetes, have the shakes from Parkinson’s, am half blind, and have to be on some dialysis machine three times a week just to keep me alive.”
“Sure, things may seem bad,” I said, “but don’t you have grandkids? Don’t you want to be a part of their lives?”
“Yeah, yeah, you’re not the first doctor to ask me about my grandkids. I hardly see them anyway. All they know is that their grand-dad is sick.”
“Besides,” he said, holding out his shaking hands, “look at these hands — I can hardly feed myself.” Then, raising his voice, he lamented “It takes me an hour to shave using a rotary razor. Life just isn’t worth living anymore.”
“Well don’t you have any hobbies you enjoy?” I asked, starting to grasp for straws.
“No. And I’m done talking to you. Don’t ask me any more questions, because I’m not going to answer them. We’re through.”
“But…” And then I was cut off by that pervasive stare. He held a finger up between us, and I couldn’t tell whether the shaking was voluntary or involuntary. But he got his point across. I hung my head in defeat, patted him on the shoulder, and walked out of the room. I had the nurse give him some IV Ativan to help him sleep. Not sure if that was more for his benefit or for mine.
I can sew up a laceration like Betsy Ross sewed the flag, diagnose a bazillion types of rashes, bust an MI or stroke within 10 minutes of the patient hitting the door, but I can’t heal the human soul.


  1. Nope, soul healing isn’t for anyone. Doctors are not gods and I’m thankful for that.

    I can identify with the man in the story and it’s entirely his choice. You don’t know what sort of life he lived nor what his life was like and maybe it’s easy to just hand out meds to everyone who walks through the door and then call them fixed but try being someone who is sick with the only hope being a lifetime of doctor visits.

    Peace, love and understanding.

  2. And yet you did for that elderly man with the broken glasses. You do what you can. All you can do is your best and even if it’s not everyone…there will still be some that you have impacted for the better. 🙂

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