Rules for Attending Withdrawing Care Conferences

1. Under no circumstances note how the patient’s temples are grey with the same advancing pattern of color change as your father’s or how a strong man, just like your dad is, too, has been made powerless by his heart that always gave unconditional love.

2. Do not observe how his son clutches and wrings his baseball cap, just like the ones your brother always wears. Grant invisibility to his tears.

3. Forget that his wife, not unlike your own mother, does not cry.

4. Praise his daughter for saving his life with CPR, allowing the family time to say goodbye.

5. Zone out when the attending eulogizes the patient, remarking on how he is an incredible fighter, but his body was not up to this final match.

6. Use plain, straightforward language as you explain how and when he will die.

7. Reassure them he does not feel pain, but they should nevertheless hold his hand and tell him they love him and that they’ll be okay even though you can’t fathom that being true if this were your father.

8. Every time you sense tears welling in your eyes, imagine anything (i.e., the monotony of the reading you have to complete tonight, what you’re going to eat for lunch), anything to prevent you from crying. This is not your moment.

9. As best you can, shut out the wailing emanating from the family conference room you exited seconds ago.

10. Craft a list of personal rules intellectualizing the situation to prevent you from breaking down in fear of knowing your family is not immune to this situation.

11. Walk to the next patient room.

Dannen is a member of the University of Utah School of Medicine class of 2019. She holds a B.S. in Biology with minors in Psychology and Art History, which she will employ as a psychiatry resident at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill beginning in summer 2019. In her spare time, you can find her devouring books or emulating the Barefoot Contessa by making dinner (with dessert!) for her friends. 

Rubor Participation:
2019 Poem, "To Astra in Clinic 6"
2018 Essay, "A Silent Sentinel"