While awaiting Evaluation for PTSD I was, for a long time, ensconced on a mixed ward at the local VA hospital. The other patients had a wide variety of ailments. Smoking was still allowed in the Patient’s lounge. We spent countless hours just sitting and talking and watching endless reruns of MASH on the TV. They were on as a minimum four times a day. I guess they just wanted to convince us veterans that war was fun.
One day a new patient arrived and was immediately placed in a private room just down the hall. We never met him or even saw him, but, much to our annoyance he kept calling for the nurse. He didn’t ring for the nurse (there was no such thing); but kept calling out loudly for the nurse. By the end of the first day it was getting on my nerves as his calls increased in frequency to such an extent it had become a kind of sing-song through chronic repetition:
At first, “Nurse!”———–“Nurse!”———–“Nurse!”———–“Nurse!”———–“Nurse!”
Then, “Nurse!” “Nurse!” “Nurse!” “Nurse!” “Nurse!” “Nurse!” “Nurse!”
By the end of the second day, not only was he calling relentlessly “Nurse!” “Nurse!” “Nurse!” “Nurse!” “Nurse!” “Nurse!” “Nurse!” for the nurse; he began calling for a doctor: “Bring me a doctor!” “Bring me a doctor!“
When the nurse came around to do all of our “vitals” of pulse and blood pressure, I asked her quietly: “Isn’t there something you can do for that man?”
She answered “No. There’s nothing to be done.” She went on to explain to me that he had terminal lung cancer. She said he’d already had one lung removed and the remaining one was half cancerous, and the good half was slowly filling with fluid. She said he wasn’t in any pain but was slowly drowning in his own bodily fluids.
By the morning of the third day he’d given up calling for the nurse, or even a doctor. They last I heard of his voice he was desperately calling out: “Bring me two doctors!” “Bring me two doctors!”
As a student of history I’ve read the biographies of many mighty monarchs lying on their death beds, sometimes in great agony, surrounded bedside by their useless physicians.