During my second month of residency, I met a wonderful 17 year-old young woman with cystic fibrosis. She had become very ill and presented with a cough containing large amounts of blood and severe fatigue.
After three days in the hospital, she asked to speak with me privately. Her family left the room and I sat by her side.
She started, “I am really tired and I just want to be in peace. I don’t want any of this anymore. Can you talk with my family and help them let me go?”
I tried to keep my composure but as soon as I started speaking, I broke down and began crying. I panicked, ran out of the room and hid in a corner near the elevator.
It took nearly an hour before I could calm down, reenter her room and resume the conversation with her.
Moral of the story: This was the first time I realized pediatrics was not simply teaching toilet training and giving immunizations. Children were going to die and I needed to be emotionally prepared for the most difficult conversations.