When I first started working for the Palliative Care office as a temp, filing the patient packs in the Dead Files was really depressing. It was almost as depressing as marking the patient as ‘Dead’ on the computer system. When you do this (called ‘deading’ someone), the patient’s name turns red. As the year goes on, more and more names that were black turn red, and more packs move from the blue ‘Alive’ files to the red ‘Dead’ files. There’s something very deflating about the whole process.
I’ve been a medical secretary for several months now. I’ve filed and deaded over 100 people. I’ve written so many letters on dying patients, I stopped counting. Somebody dies on our team’s caseload almost every day.
If you work around death long enough, something weird happens. I can’t put my finger on it, but my attitude towards the whole thing has shifted. A lot. I’m not saying the work is not depressing, because it can be. But it’s also interesting, and rewarding, and even funny. I get to see the very end of the movie, many movies, and they are all different. People react very differently to the end of their life. Some are scared, some are accepting, some just want to make sure their dog will be ok. Some don’t want to think about it at all. Some want to get it over with. I get to know just a little about all of these people. I get to see how their story ends.
And yeah, it makes me think about the end of my story. About what someone will be typing about me someday. But, I don’t think about that as much as one might expect. More often I think about how many letters I have to get through today. And I wonder if this patient will get home, and if this one will get to see his son’s wedding, if this one will be reconciled with her brother, if the transplant will come in time for this other one.
Today I spent some time thinking about how to reorganize our Dead Files.