Hektoen International

A Journal of Medical Humanities

Room 460

Megan Rizer
Gainesville, Florida, United States

Photo by author

Every time I walked by Mr. L’s hospital room, I heard the Game Show Network blasting on television. The Price is Right, Press Your Luck, Wheel of Fortune—some rerun of an old game show was always on. I had been helping to take care of him for several weeks, rounding on him twice a day. He had been in the hospital for eight months with end stage kidney disease, heart failure, chronic lung disease (COPD), and liver failure. He adamantly refused to go to a long-term rehab facility or hospice and did not have family close by. The Veterans’ Hospital had become his home.

One morning, on our usual morning rounds, he muted the Game Show Network and declared, “I’m done. I’m ready to die.” After discussions with him and the interdisciplinary team, his dialysis and medications were stopped and he began to receive comfort care. I continued to visit him every day and he became more and more swollen without dialysis. After five days, even his eyes were swollen, and I could hear the gurgling in his lungs without a stethoscope. We knew that the end was near. I asked him if there was anything he hoped to do, and he said all he wanted was one last steak dinner.

That afternoon we ordered him a ribeye with a baked potato and brought it to his room. When we came in, he was struggling to get a sock onto his necrotic foot, which he had refused to let anyone amputate, stating, “When I die, I’m taking my foot with me.” When he saw the steak, his eyes lit up. We unloaded the meal for him, including the restaurant-provided salt packets. He grabbed three of them, gave me a mischievous grin, and dumped them all on his steak and potatoes. It was the first time I saw him truly smile. He ate his steak dinner, covered in salt, blasting the Game Show Network. When I returned on Monday morning, there was no Game Show Network playing. I peeked into the room but there was a different patient inside. Mr. L had died peacefully in his sleep that evening.

How bizarre, I thought, that someone could spend eight months in that room, and now it was occupied by someone else. I wondered who else had stayed there before Mr. L, how many people had cried or pulled through, had put their trust and their lives into the hands of the hospital team. Two other patients would occupy room 460 during my time: a woman with a complicated urinary infection who was also a new grandmother, and a man with heart failure who was an avid bird watcher. I realized that practicing medicine can feel like an endlessly revolving door of patients; yet, for them, a stay in the hospital is often a terrifying and life-changing event. Our patients place their trust and their lives in our hands.

MEGAN RIZER is a third-year medical student studying at the University of Florida College of Medicine. She is planning on pursuing a career in pediatrics and has a particular interest in mentorship and teaching. Her research interests include quality improvement and medical education development. She is also an active member of several student-run free clinics in her community. 

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