Generous Alumna/Grateful Student

I stood in the checkout line at Barnes & Noble’s, thumbing the corner of my new hardcover book affectionately. I had heard that a BU alumna had donated a copy of Dr. Atul Gawande’s new book Being Mortal to the entire first year class, Dr. Gawande had graciously agreed to speak at our medical school on the subject of end-of-life care.

I was excited to hear him speak, because my most memorable experience during my 3rd year dealt with the topic of end-of-life care. During my medicine rotation, my team and I were responsible for the care of Ms. M, a nonverbal elderly female patient with advanced dementia and terminal cancer. Her daughters, after speaking with our medical team, had come to the conclusion that she would have wanted hospice care, surrounded by her family, and not the invasive surgical or medical treatments required to extend her lifespan.

During our morning rounds, the day after we had withdrawn her feeding tube, one observant resident commented that her eyes were focused on me while we were examining her. He told me that I probably reminded her of someone she cared about.

Even though I couldn’t communicate with her with my words, I wanted to convey to Ms. M that she was surrounded by people who cared deeply about her, including her medical team. So I held her hand with both of mine, and she continued to gaze at me with her deep, brown eyes. For the next few days, when time allowed, I would go to her room to hold her hand and smile. She passed away peacefully, without pain, surrounded by loved ones as she would have wanted.

I was reflecting on that memory, when all of a sudden, I heard:

“Are you a medical student?”

My mind snaps back to reality.

“Yes I am. How did you know?”

“I can tell by the book you’re holding.”

I tell the kind stranger that I am a BU medical student. I let her know that I’m interested in end-of-life care and that, through the kindness of a BUSM alumna, Dr. Atul Gawande was going to speak to the medical students at my school.

She smiles and introduces herself as Dr. Elizabeth Dooling—the same Dr. Dooling who donated Being Mortal to the entire first year class.

Our talk was much shorter than I would have liked. The line at Barnes & Noble moved quickly, and I had a meeting to go to immediately afterwards. But I left our chance encounter with a tremendous sense of gratitude towards her and all the BU alumni who have done so much for our medical students. I hope to follow her example and the example set by so many generous alumni—I want to pay it forward to the generations of future doctors that train at Boston University School of Medicine.

By Andrew Chu BUSM ’16