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Story 02: Education of a Dropout

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Sidebar: The Death of Mr. Montgomery

Written by Mike Spock

One desperately sick patient I got to know, help, and feel sorry for was dying of spinal cancer. Mr. Montgomery didn't seem to have friends or family, at least in the final pain-wracked months of his decline. He was immobilized in a canvas frame that allowed him to be turned and serviced, barbeque-like, by the staff. And he needed everything. Within the medical protocols of those times, relief from pain was withheld until the next four-hour when the medications were scheduled to arrive. After all, he might become addicted. Mr. Montgomery was desperate for companionship and for his next fix of morphine. We and the medications never came with the intensity or frequency that would give him real relief. While the morphine was working he asked us to light his cigarettes or give him a shave, but there seemed nothing more to do for or with him. I felt almost as impotent as he was. As his disease progressed it became harder for all of us to hear his groans and desperate calls for help, or even stop and spend time with this poor soul. One Monday I checked in after a weekend off to learn that Mr. Montgomery had finally died. I was grateful that I wasn't on call to take his body to the hospital morgue.

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