Mourning My Patient, Mr Schwartz

Ann Fam Med. 2021 Sep-Oct;19(5):460-462. doi: 10.1370/afm.2710.


The story depicts my close relationship with Mr Schwartz, an elderly Holocaust survivor, spanning over 20 years. During those years, he became a significant patient to me; during my many home visits, we often shared significant conversations about life. When Mr Schwartz was diagnosed at age 90 with advanced cancer, we made an alliance whereby I would represent him in his decision not to receive medical interventions. For the next 4 years until his death, Mr Schwartz pleaded with me to kill him, which I could not do either legally or morally.Over the years; I was moved by his honesty, frustrated at my inability to offer him relief or a sense of meaning, and pensive, as I would inevitably reflect on existential issues pertaining to myself and my dear ones. Mourning his loss was complex, for I was very close to him, yet not a part of his family. With whom can we physicians share our sadness at the loss of a person with whom we never actually spent a holiday or family dinner?

Keywords: advance care planning; doctor-patient relationship; palliative care; physician narrative.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Communication
  • Grief*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Physicians*