I have a story to tell. Or rather, I have my patient’s story to tell. I never knew his name, I never met his family, and I never heard him speak. I actually never met him while alive. But on a night call on my Family Medicine rotation, the chief resident and I were called to pronounce him dead. He was down a long hallway at JCMC and there seemed to be no one else in the rooms around him. It was as if, in death, the hallway had cleared to make way for some strange arrival. The whole thing had an air of surrealism about it. We entered his room and began checking “vitals”, which were, at this point, non-existent. You could tell by looking at the man that he was dead. His face was a sallow, his mouth open in an eternal yawn. His skin was puckered in a familiar way because of the cadavers we worked with during our first year of med school. No family was present. No pictures or flowers adorning the room, just the absence of everything but dead air. It was a little jarring. I kept telling myself that it was okay to look away— I’d recently had a traumatic experience at the morgue during my Pathology rotation and hadn’t fully processed that— so instead, I chanced a look outside the window. What I saw I don’t think I’ll ever forget. I was so shocked that I broke the silence of the room and called my resident over.
Together, we approached the window and stared in awe at the double rainbow diving into the mountains right outside the hospital. It was so close I could have walked to the valley between them. Even more beautiful, they were framed by stormy clouds, grey and white contrasting with the double ROY G BIV and making them even more prominent. My jaw hung open, unhinged in awe of what nature had done for this man. Quickly, the resident called over some of the nurses from down the hall, and we moved into the room next to the patient, completely empty and with a window that provided the same view. Behind me, one of the nurses sniffled.
“Someone must have loved him very much,” I said.
“Or maybe this is him. Maybe he’s the one that loved someone very much,” My resident responded. We were both sobered by the event, but she gave a small smile. “Kind of spiritual, isn’t it?”
And it was. Honestly, it was one of the most spiritual things I’ve ever experienced in my life. It didn’t have to be; it wasn’t innately spiritual. Scientifically it had to do with light and moisture and refraction, and I knew this. But the process of thinking about it, of thinking about the beauty outside this man’s window as he passed away, alone, gave me a lot of hope. It gave me a reason to smile, and it gave all of us on the floor that day a reason to pause and think about the man’s life. The man’s legacy. The love that someone must have had for him, and the love that he no doubt carried for others. In that way we honored him, and I hope by writing this down, he is honored again.