Covid summer time and I’ve been wearing boring grey coloured scrubs for months now. As it became hotter I must admit that it has been good to not have to wear neckties – my usual trademark item.
My patients and their families usually enjoy them, so I will continue wearing them. They can be a good icebreaker, in that a doctor who wears cartoon ties probably isn’t so far up himself, chances are he’s approachable.
One Friday whilst wearing a rainbow trout on my neck I had asked my patient what tie she wanted me to wear on Monday. She said to wear a favourite one, and so I would.
I walked in and noticed that we had something in common. This had not been arranged and had happened purely by chance. Turquoise was the colour of my tie and the colour of her night dress, exactly the same colour.
Hey great minds think alike.
Yeah we both have great taste in colour.
I love Winnie the Pooh.
Heh, I’m the only doctor who doesn’t mind a bit of Pooh on his tie.
Haha, you know we have something else in common too.
Oh really, what’s that?
She took the turquoise short sleeve off her left shoulder revealing a Winnie the Pooh tattoo.
I was uncharacteristically speechless for a few seconds. Wow, synchronicity.
Tie requests were entertained over the next week, but then she became too unwell to choose.
When she was actively dying and unable to talk her family members presented me with something that she had wanted me to have.
Thank you, that’s really nice, I promise that I will wear it well.
Since then, on alternate Fridays, I wear a purple tuna fish around my neck.
I opened the curtains this morning and there was a little fly. These have become ubiquitous in the past weeks as we have entered New Zealand’s summer. This fly was doing it’s thing near my bedroom windows and despite still being bleary eyed I tried to catch it with my bare hands. Using my whole hand did not work, the fly was able to weave it’s way between my fingers. After a few flailed attempts, I decided to change my strategy. I would try and catch it between the index finger and thumb of my preferred right hand. I went to grab it, and made contact. The fly was stunned and landed on the window sill, I promptly threw it out the window. Little did I know that this series of events would lead to a communications breakthrough later in the morning.
There was a tension in the room as we walked in. The patient was having suctioning done, but from the sounds of her breathing the fluid that needed to be cleared was deep in her main airways. As people near the end of their lives they are less able to cough, and so a tiny amount of fluid can pool, and these can result in a rattley sounds produced on breathing out. Just like when you are drinking something through a straw, at the end of a drink, a tiny bit of fluid can make a lot noise. The same occurs at the end of a life, a bit of fluid vibrating in a deep airway can be noisy, it probably doesn’t bother the patient so much but can be a source of distress to their family members, and even clinical staff.
The adult children, all of whom were parents themselves, were attentive but all looked scared with deep concern etched on their faces. Their beloved mother had been well up until only three weeks ago. Then a large brain bleed had come out of nowhere, rendering mother unconscious. Off to hospital, with many invasive procedures completed but no significant improvement obtained. The doctors and nurses had tried everything they could, but the patient remained unresponsive.
The family were told that their mother/grandmother was dying, but it took a while to sink in. It is usually hard enough to visit sick loved ones in the hospital, let alone during strict Covid-19 lockdown conditions. A very distressing time for the patient and her family. Their mother who had brought them up well, who was the beloved grandmother to their collected 7 children, was not going to be alive much longer. They hated to see her in such extreme distress, and were trying to help, but really did not know what to do.
Communication was crucial but to begin with the emotional temperature in the room was icy cold. An icebreaker was required as it was difficult to establish any rapport with the patient’s children. The patient herself had not been able to speak or respond for some weeks. Even using our mutual second-language, Mandarin Chinese, I had trouble connecting with the distressed family.
Something must have noticed and sent along a little helper, through the window. A fly was flitting around the patient and we tried to swot it away, but it was persistently dodging all attempts. I readied my special index finger and thumb technique that had served me well this morning, I was primed and ready to strike when the air in the room was disturbed by a whooshing sound.