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by Hayes Wong


Hayes Wong

Hayes Wong

Year in Medical School: 3rd 

Place of birth:
Atlanta, GA

Where you grew up:

College: Kenyon College

Major(s) in College:
International Studies and Environmental Studies concentration

Goals (medical school and beyond): "Your work is to discover your work, and then, with all your heart, to give yourself to it" - Buddha

Personal Philosophy on life and/or medicine: Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has - Margaret Meed

Personal Philosophy on life and/or medicine: What lies before us and what lies behind us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us
- R.W. Emerson


“Good morning Mr. J. Mr. J?” I call out to him as I walk into the room.

No response.

Holding my breath, until I see he takes one.

Almost reluctantly but resolutely, his chest wall rises then falls again, irregular, unmetered.

Mouth gaping, scabs of where the aide shaved his sunken face that morning, eyes shut.

This is the exact scene that awaits each time I enter the room.

“Mr J!” I try again with more force in my voice with a gentle shoulder shake, careful not to perturb his frail, malnourished body.

Watching. Watching and waiting.

This will make day 6 of his stay at hospice.

This will make day 5 without food, without water.

He survives off the sustenance of morphine, ativan and haldol

Is today the day?


Mr. J, you have outlived others in rooms next to yours, others who were stronger than you.

Exceeding my expectations and those of the hospice staff,

Each day you cling to life, perhaps unwillingly, straddling two worlds.

The nurses move and bathe you, and to their interference you moan and grimace, eyes ablaze but seeing nothing, you thrash with spasticity in your arms,

But your emaciated body, ravaged by lung cancer, submits to the medication.

Ah, salvation in sedation. Then you rest again.


“Good morning, Mr. J. Mr. J?” The scene unfolds exactly as the day before and the day before that.

Again, I wait, holding my breath, until I see his chest move.

Today though, he has a gurgling sound deep in his lungs, a sound of choking,

I was warned about this: the ‘death rattle’.

An unsettling sound, but only to the witness, making my every core want to bolt from the room.

I move closer, pulling out my stethoscope to listen for his heart,

There is a putrid tang to his breath that I cannot avoid regardless of repositioning.

Is this the smell of life before death?

Is today the day?

Watching. Watching and waiting.


Mr. J, where is your wife, your children, your loved ones?

They promise to come daily but I have seen them only once.

You are alone here, and I pity you.

You receive diligent and faithful care of nurses and aides, all strangers to your former self.

Did you ever conceive that your final days would be like this?

For many others, they also defy odds, holding-on weeks beyond what is expected,

Waiting for something to happen or someone to come.

Are you waiting?


Watching. Watching and waiting.

I am pained by his suffering, disturbed by his decline into death,

I secretly pray for his release from this world, release from the agitation, the disorientation, and the pain.

My hope is that he may find peace on a warm bankside in autumn.

Is today the day?

Part of me hopes so.

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Last Updated: 03-16-2012
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