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The One Who Cares

stethoscope and heart

pexels/Karolina Grabowska

If we started the year 2020 with audacious hopes for perfect vision—seeing more clearly—we were completely blindsided. Our hoped-for year of clarity became a year of befuddlement. A year of new beginnings became a year of death.

IF WE STARTED THE YEAR 2020 with audacious hopes for perfect vision—seeing more clearly—we were completely blindsided. Our hoped-for year of clarity became a year of befuddlement. A year of new beginnings became a year of death. When I was treating patients with the coronavirus in New York City last spring, one of the greatest challenges was being fully present with my dying patients. Why? The story, unfortunately, was a familiar one during the early days of the pandemic. Shortages of personal protective equipment forced doctors to limit the frequency and duration of patient contact. Concern over virus spread meant most visitors could not come to the hospital—even when death was imminent. There’s no question that the prospect of dying alone from COVID-19 grieved patients and families. But it also caused great distress for medical professionals. No one should suffer and die alone. On this point we’ve achieved clarity. Human beings instinctively comfort the sick and accompany the dying. It’s human nature. I recall the time a patient of mine, the painter Maurice Sapiro, was hospitalized. Mr. Sapiro is t …

About the Author

Lydia Dugdale MD, MAR

Lydia Dugdale MD, MAR, is Dorothy L. and Daniel H. Silberberg Associate Professor of Medicine and director of the Center for Clinical Medical Ethics at Columbia University. Prior to her 2019 move to Columbia, she was associate director of the program for Biomedical Ethics and founding co-director of the Program for Medicine, Spirituality, and Religion at Yale School of Medicine. She is an internal medicine primary care doctor and medical ethicist. Her first book, Dying in the Twenty-First Century (MIT Press, 2015), provides the theoretical grounding for her new book, The Lost Art of Dying (July 2020), in which you can further explore hopeful perspectives on death and dying—and living with intention—via the lost Medieval practice of ars moriendi. Dugdale lives with her husband and daughters in New York City. 


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