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Emily Maston had been a Vanderbilt medical student for only a month when she visited with a hospice patient hours away from death. Dying was not something she was familiar with. At that point in her education she hadn’t even learned much about the disease process.

Maston, 28, was participating in Vanderbilt University School of Medicine’s Patient, Profession and Society course, and was on a rotation at Alive Hospice Residence Nashville with Melinda Henderson, M.D., one of the nonprofit agency’s medical directors.

The patient, in his late 40s, had long gaps between each breath and was showing many of the impending signs of death. Despite the labored breathing and the immediacy of death, the room was peaceful, Maston recalls. She observed as Henderson spoke with the man’s mother about his last days — that he had been lucid, able to enjoy his family, and do the last things he wanted to do, pain free. The doctor talked easily with the man’s mother about her son’s life that was being cut short.

“To me, in that environment, death didn’t seem frightening, it seemed human,” Maston said. “It was at the same time heartbreaking and hopeful, a celebration of life just as much as it was a mourning of death. The totality of life was acknowledged: the beginning, the end, the good, the bad, and that’s something we all know. We’re all human,” the Southern California native said.   continued>>

 

WRITTEN BY NANCY HUMPHREY
PHOTOGRAPH BY SUSAN URMY
   
     
   
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