Tuesday, June 28, 2016

"Onward! We Journey Forth!" (Honeymoon Edition, Pt. 2)

So, when we last we left our couple, they were enjoying relaxing days in the sunny streets of Prague. But the adventure was about to shift into high gear...

So, after the most pleasant puddle jump flight either of us have ever experienced, we landed in Hungary. Again, not much planning had been done up to this point, but shout out to P.A. and my other friends who have been to Budapest for their suggestions and ideas. The first night, after we got off the plane, we just sat in the hotel and laid our strategy. That is, after sampling the signature dish of Hungary, chicken paprikash. Believe me, if you like sour cream or paprika, Hungary is the place for you. Shout out to the Budapest City Break for creating a tourist map with splendid routes for self-guided walking tours of the city's sites - you da real MVP of this trip. 
Our well-used tourist map
Our first full day in Hungary, we realized we were on the Buda side and much of what we wanted to see was in Pest (Buda and Pest being the two sides of the city divided by the Danube River, and united by 6 bridges and a love for sour cream). Still, we took our first walk across the famous Chain Bridge and immediately were taken by the gorgeous buildings. Prague had a lot of great architecture, but Budapest celebrates its historic buildings and bridges and other infrastructure in a much more intense way. As Reptar put it, "Even their manhole covers are pretty!"

(Interesting fact about the Chain Bridge: According to legend, the architect who designed it proclaimed that if someone found a flaw with it, he would commit suicide. And of course, an intern - or whatever the 19th century equivalent of an architectural intern was - piped up and pointed out that the lions have no tongues. The architect didn't commit suicide...although he did die not long after. Also...apparently the lions do have tongues.) 

After crossing the bridge, we found the gorgeous Parliament building and its lovely gardens, and were introduced to the word lapidarium - "place where stone monuments and fragments of archaeological interest are exhibited." It's actually way more interesting than it sounds, and some of the history was actually quite engrossing. Well, for me, at least. Reptar deigned not to spend quite as much time examining the pieces.
Later we would walk Vaci Street and its many boutiques, merchants, and all other matter of shopping. As you can imagine, there aren't a whole lot of Indians in Budapest at any given time, so Reptar and I got a few stares here and there, but more importantly, we were magnets for restaurateurs and store employees looking to sell their wares. One girl walked up and immediately asked, "India?" We simply nodded, unsure of what else to say. 
"Oh, India, great! So for you...Saabon? Saabon?" She offered us two small translucent rectangular prisms, one bright blue and one bright yellow. We each picked one up and stared at each other, and then I asked the question that was on both of our minds.
"Do we eat it?"

"No!" the girl replied, "It's saabon!" At our continued blank stares, she finally understood. "So...I speak more Hindi than you both do?"
Turns out, saabon is the Hindi word for soap. She was selling us Dead Sea soap. Reptar loved the soap. It made her skin feel smooth and tingly. 

I hated it. Stupid dead sea soap. We actually took a detour so I could find a bathroom and wash it off my hands.

But it was made up for by going to St. Stephen's Basilica and witnessing one of their weekly organ concerts. I mean, I know I talked about cathedral concerts in Part 1 of this post, but I had no idea. I thought I knew how beautiful music could sound in a huge church. But the organist at St. Stephen's Basilica took his throne and blew the doors off the place. I think his rendition of Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor actually punched me in the face. Or at least the ear drums. I was floored by the beauty of both the cathedral and the music.

Day 2 was...well, it was a pretty far walk. I've had to apologize and/or humorously confess to this a few times now, so I may as well state it here for the record: I kept telling Reptar (not falsely, as I was convinced of it myself), that we were walking about 2-3 miles a day, despite her protests. We later looked at it on Google Maps...we were walking close to 8-9 miles a day. So, as is bound to happen so many times in the near and far future, my wife was correct and I was not.
Of course, if she'd listened to my advice and worn sneakers instead of sandals, her feet, legs, and back would not have ached quite as much.

Anyway, we walked to the Balna, or "The Whale" - a uniquely-shaped shopping center with interesting restaurants and a delicious lamb burger in one of its restaurants. From there it was off to the Zwack Museum, where they distill the Hungarian answer to Jagermeister known as Unicum, as well as host the largest collection of mini-bottles of liquor (17,000!) in Central Europe. Fun fact: Peter Zwack once came to Buffalo as an ambassador - they have a letter of praise signed by Mayor Byron Brown, as well as Bills and Buffalo memorabilia in a display case. Pretty cool!

Later that night we went on a beautiful evening dinner cruise along the Danube. The food was delicious, the wine was lovely, the view was gorgeous. The one thing I would change is that we should have taken the 10 PM cruise - it's even prettier at night.
That's the single biggest difference between Prague and Budapest. Budapest has a significant nightlife. In Prague, there were a few restaurants and bars open late, including that jazz club we enjoyed on our last night there. And I'm sure there was more, too, but it seemed like by 10:00 PM or so, things were wrapping up. In Budapest, on the other hand, it seemed more like the lights were still up, people were still out in droves, and more was happening. Even the street musicians and buskers were out later (which is why I also own a CD from a Hungarian group...although it's mostly instrumental smooth rock covers of American songs, it's not bad).
On Day 3, we decided to stay on the Buda side of Budapest. The Castle District is truly beautiful, with its gorgeous scenery views and intensely beautiful architecture. The history seemed to flow out of each building and mountain. The biggest treat for two fledgling physicians was getting to see the Hospital in the Rock, an underground medical facility that served both as hospital and neutral sanctuary for victims of the war-ravaged and under-siege Budapest during WWII. Later we enjoyed the Museum of Military History (well, we raced through the exhibit because it seemed like they were basically closing each wing for the night right after we finished seeing it). We finished off the day by finding out that jazz clubs in Budapest fill to capacity much faster than clubs in Prague, but we enjoyed some amateur blues musicians instead and Reptar re-discovered that she is a major fan of tiramisu. Finally, again on P.A.'s advice, we headed to the Ruin Pub Szimplakert - unsure of what to expect on a Wednesday night, but instead finding a cool vibe, good beer, and some really intricate graffiti. 
On our last full day, we checked out the artsy district of Andrassy Avenue, finding the opera House and several rehearsal spaces that brought back pleasant memories of college when I played drums for modern dancers in similar rooms. The House of Terror Museum brought home (and brought it hard) the devastation the Nazi Party and the Soviet Regime caused to Hungarians. Heroes Square, City Park Lake, and Vajdahunyad Castle rounded out the trip, and then it was time to pack and collapse.

Notes on the trip home: Budapest airport was ridiculous. I have never seen a more disorganized check-in area. Rope lines are useful for a reason, Budapest Airport. Other than that, it was quite pleasant.
And how did we finish off our incredible honeymoon adventure?

We got home and, for our first meal in the USA, had Chipotle. It was delicious. NOM NOM.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

10 Days Off the Island (a.k.a Honeymoon Edition, Part 1)

"So...I'm married now. That's pretty cool." -Me, Tweeting 5/28/2016

I know it's lame to quote yourself, and ordinarily I would never do it...but that's still a pretty amazing thought to me. Fiancée Reptar has evolved into Wife Reptar, and if anything she looks more beautiful than before. Things are roughly the same as before...but something feels different.
But anyway, enough of the sentimental stuff. Or "senti", as my cousin (and Deacon at my wedding) Josh puts it. We took off for our honeymoon, a much-needed 10-day vacation to end my intern year and start Reptar's. After an 8-hour flight, Wife Reptar and I landed in Prague with the typical "Um...what do we do now?" expression on our faces. So...

We took a nap.

From the Charles Bridge
Later we explored some of the surrounding areas, and to show you how little research we had done prior to the trip, at one point we crossed a bridge with a ton of statues depicting various scenes of religious strife and major figures. It was crowded, nearly choked with tourists gawking at the statues, peddlers hawking their wares, and caricature artists creating hilarious art, all the way across. At the end of the walkway, Reptar turned and asked, "Joe, was that the Charles Bridge? The big tourist landmark everyone told us to check out?" As it turned out, it was. Almost missed the significance, there. 

We also immediately discovered the Czech Republic's rich artistic culture. Obviously the architecture is immediately breathtaking, as visible in any photo or painting of Prague. But beyond that, in nearly every cathedral or church or other other venue, almost nightly they have classical music performances. Have you ever heard Vivaldi or Dvorak as performed by string quartet+organ combo? Toss a rock in Prague and you can hit a performance. It's beautiful. More on music later.
We also realized that we had timed our trip perfectly with the Prague Fringe Festival! Amazing performers from all over Europe had arrived to show off their talents. The first night itself we caught a one-woman show of Richard III, one of my favorite Shakespearean plays. Soon to become one of Reptar's(?). Later in the week we would catch the hilarious improv group Men with Coconuts, as well as the Who Dares Twins, a musical stand-up act featuring two twin brothers, and at the end of the week we would be taken along on an acid trip in story form, simply titled "Tiger," and be read (disappointingly) by the Singing Psychic, an act which should really just be called "A British Woman Puts on an Eastern European Accent and Shows Off Her Singing Talent by Looking Up (In a Book) and Then Singing Top 40 Hits from the Week You Were Born."
The peeing statues

Our second day of the trip was probably the most memorable, as it started off with us setting an alarm for 8:30 and not actually waking up until...1:00 PM. Whoops. Still, we wasted no time in getting lunch and then headed to the KGB Museum. If you're ever in Prague, I highly suggest this (thank you Foursquare app for suggesting it to us!). The owner is clearly waiting for Putin to call him and initiate a new Soviet Union by taking the Czech Republic back into Russian hands. He also may have a bit of a cocaine habit fueling his Russian pride. But he will give you an excellent and animated tour of his little museum, pointing out and demonstrating the function of various Russian weaponry, communications, and spy equipment and using it to provide historical context as he takes you through the history of the KGB from pre-WWI up to the end of WWII and beyond. The whole thing was really intriguing and educational (if biased)...but he was weird. 
The other great museum is that of Franz Kafka. If you have even a passing familiarity with his work, or any interest in a man whose writing shapes our interpretation both of life and of history, you should definitely go here. The creepy yet enticing exhibit takes you through his life and thinking process, and you really get a sense of knowing the man a tiny bit better (if only a tiny bit).
St. Vitus Cathedral

Reptar and I prided ourselves on not using the tour group thing and just discovering the city and its history on our own. But one tourist trap you absolutely should fall into is Prague Castle. The basic ticket package consists of the four main attractions - St. Vitus Cathedral, St. George's Basilica, Old Royal Palace, Golden Lane. I have never seen Reptar display as much wonderment as when we walked through the awe-inspiring St. Vitus Cathedral, with its brilliantly detailed stained-glass windows and its incredible architecture, and the sheer ethereal quality to the air that made you feel like you were truly in God's presence. Later, we would encounter the camaraderie of our profession in a cafe after the Castle. Reptar's American Medical Student Association sweatshirt prompted a pathologist and her reproductive endocrinologist husband to introduce themselves, wish us congratulations, and pass on both career and marital advice, as well as suggestions for leg 2 of our trip, Budapest. 

And they had Starbucks
Of course, no travel post would be complete without food. Czech food is heavy on the meats and carbs. Reptar and I quickly found our favorite dish to be goulash, a far cry from the pasta-and-ground beef combo of American goulash, but rather delicious chunks of spiced beef in a sauce reminiscent of (but not as flavorful or spicy as) an Indian curry, with bread dumplings that would have been tasty enough on their own. This can be found in any Czech restaurant, but our clear favorite was a quaint little mom-and-pop eatery in Old Town named U Modrého Hroznu. We might go back to Prague sometime just to eat at that place again.
The amazing hot chocolate
I drank a beer with every non-breakfast meal, which was pretty standard (the Pilsener was first brewed in the Czech Republic, so that's what is found pretty much everywhere - it would take some doing to find a good dark beer to suit my tastes). They appear to drink more beer than water (which comes only in bottles and costs extra) in Prague, much to Reptar's beer-aversive chagrin.
In the cafe with the two physicians we would encounter the terrific combination of Schnitzel+strudel, as well as Prague's infamous delicious spoon-required hot chocolate. Later we wandered through a wine festival with some of the best chocolate cheesecake I have ever encountered. But no trip to Prague is complete without the cinnamon sugar-coated dough spiral known as Trdelnik, now sometimes paired with flavored gelato for a truly delicious cold treat.
And, of course, it wouldn't be me without some music. In addition to the aforementioned classical music, the wine festival featured an impressive jazz quartet of guitar, accordion, banjo, and double bass, putting a delightful Eastern Europe spin on classics like "The Girl From Ipanema" and "On Green Dolphin Street." And on our last night we descended into one of the established jazz clubs in the area and took in the mighty Jan Kofenik and the GrooveKeepers, of whom I've never heard, but they were a tight little organ jazz quintet that brought the house down for their CD release party. That's right, I own a CD of a Czech jazz group now.

Overall, an amazing trip. And it's the only the first half! Now we're off to Budapest for the second leg. Maybe I'll let Reptar talk in the next post. Or at least talk about her a little more.

Yay, Trdelnik!

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Music Heard on the Island, 2015 Edition

So my last couple of posts got pretty heavy, so let's change it up to something a bit more lighthearted.
2015 was a cool year in music. I liked a lot of what happened last year. Of course, there was some crap, but it seemed like I saw less of it then I did in 2014. Heck, 2015 was the year Justin Bieber finally became somewhat acceptable listening material. That in and of itself was enough to sit up and take notice of the musical year.

2015 saw a lot of great music, and sadly I missed a lot of it. I heard snatches here and there - Chris Stapleton's appearance on SNL left me wanting more, and the Chris Cornell and Sara Bareilles features on Zac Brown Band's new Jekyll+Hyde intrigued me. I still have yet to get to those albums.
2015 was also the year of the comeback. Shania Twain released a live album? Natalie Imbruglia finally stopped feeling "Torn"and released new music? Howie Day still exists and is making music? I didn't listen to any of them, but it's interesting that they came back (see below for more).
And there were a bunch of albums that I listened to in 2015 that, on looking them, actually came out in 2014, or even 2013. Son Little is an excellent modern blues album that caught my attention with the return of Spotify's "Discover Weekly" feature. Vance Joy's "Riptide" pulled me in (get it?), but that album came out last year, too. Whoops.

Anyway, onto albums that actually came out in 2015 and that I did listen to:

1. Kendrick Lamar - To Pimp A Butterfly: In March, the Billboard charts were swimming in the sludge that was Meghan Trainor's "Title", struggling to stay afloat with Fall Out Boy, Ne-Yo, and the remaining singles from Mark Ronson's "Uptown Special", none of which were making us dance in the street (RIP David Bowie) the way Uptown Funk did. Meanwhile, people who know more about rap than I do were abuzz with discussion of an impending new album from Kendrick Lamar. Then near the Ides of March, "King Kunta" threw open the pop-culture doors and drop-kicked Meghan Trainor across the room. I think Australian comedian Felicity Ward put it best when she Tweeted:

The rest of the album is amazing, but very differently so. It gets heavy. It's an intense 78 minutes that delves deep into racism in our country, and it takes a couple of listens before it can fully sink in. But it is a beautiful album. One of the coolest parts is that most of the album features live musicians creating the musical canvas on which Kendrick paints his words.  My friend Jon Lehning, a working jazz saxophonist, points out that TPAB is as much jazz as it is rap in some places. I fell in love with it instantly. Check out this video of a live performance.

2. Gavin Harrison - Cheating the Polygraph. I have been a longtime fan of the band Porcupine Tree. It started with, as many of my musical discoveries start, with an interview in Modern Drummer that introduced me to this master of making intricate drumming chops blend into the music so you barely notice. Harrison creates beats at times that I can often only begin to guess at, much less try to imitate. Here he takes Porcupine Tree songs and filters them through big band arrangements, molding them from progressive hard rock into a beautiful bop jazz, while maintaining their progressive sensibilities. The result is a mix of guess-the-PT-song as you enjoy the awesome layers of horns and woodwinds breathing new life into the tunes. The album goes by pretty quickly, but it's a fun ride for jazz fans and PT lovers alike. A Sampler Montage.

3. Chris Cornell - Higher Truth: Chris Cornell's new album pre-order emerged right as I was starting to get the itch for new music in October of last year. Soundgarden had put out a new album and tour the previous year, and Cornell had announced he was doing another solo project this year. His previous solo albums have seen mild success, with the melodic alt-rock of Euphoria Morning and Carry On, contrasted with the Timbaland-produced Scream, an album that fused Cornell's voice with hip-hop beats and made Cornell fans everywhere seriously question one of the greatest voices in rock. Higher Truth takes a more stripped-down approach and lays it all on the songwriting. And it absolutely does not disappoint. It balances an acoustic folk aesthetic with heartfelt rock-out moments (lead single Nearly Forgot My Broken Heart displays this perfectly). The songs on this album let Cornell's voice shine, as the pain, sorrow, or hope of the forlorn lyrics cuts into your soul. Definitely one of my favorites. Arguable best moment: "Murderer of Blue Skies" which starts as a quietly intense folk+electronica rhythm and suddenly bursts forth with an electric guitar and crashing drum beat, one of the album's best cathartic moments. 

4. Zella Day - Kicker: I actually forgot about this album until I went to make this list. Spotify brought back its "Discover Weekly" feature (I guess it used to be called something else, my sister was telling me - she was over the moon when it came back). One of my playlists featured the song "Ace of Hearts." I was immediately floored as Zella Day's forlorn voice cut into my soul over the slick slow 6/8 beat. I went to check the rest of the album out and Mustang Kids immediately had me dancing, having fun with the same theme that Halsey's "New Americana" tried to use later in the year (and not nearly as well). The album features a lot of emotion, but it's channeled through some beautiful lyrical imagery and fantastic layered beats and soundscapes.

The next one is not one I actually heard in 2015, but I was strapped for another selection that really captured my heart. On review of albums that came out last year in anticipation of this playlist, I came across this and was pretty much immediately sold:

5. The Corrs - White Light: I know what you're thinking. The most beloved Irish family band of the late '90s and early 2000s has returned? Okay, maybe you're not thinking that, because if you're like most of the population of the United States, the last (and possibly only) time you ever heard The Corrs was 2000's "Breathless," and that's only if you saw The Corrs Live in Dublin DVD, or heard it in that Debra Messing movie "The Wedding Date." Well, they made 2 albums after that, the last one in 2004, and then lead vocalist Andrea Corr struck out on her own for a bit. Apparently in recent years, drummer Caroline got the band back together, and they went into the studio under the radar. The result is an album that seems to pick up right where they left off in 2004. The first single, "Bring On The Night," features the same dance-pop vibe  that kept "Breathless" in your head for days, with a resilient hope that makes you want to sing along and then go fight a dragon. The rest of the album continues the Corrs' tradition of balancing pop sensibilities with traditional Irish songwriting and instrumentation - the tin whistle, bodhran, and violin blend so well with guitar, keyboards, and drums. They didn't necessarily break much new ground, but after 11 years, this is exactly what Corrs fans want. 

Honorable Mentions:
Kamasi Washington - The Epic. If you like the instruments and stylings you heard in TPAB above, check this out. Washington provides the saxophone flavor on the album. My closest musicophilic compadre Eric suggested it to me, and similar to TPAB, I was instantly hooked.
Brian Wilson - No Pier Pressure. I've been expecting this album since this video came out. And it does not disappoint. Wilson hearkens back to Pet Sounds with the same Beach Boy-style harmonies and sonic textures that we've loved for years.
Def Leppard - Def Leppard. Another comeback album, DL releases an album of new material that manages to cull together all the best parts of their music over the years. "Wings of an Angel" is one of my new belt-out-in-the-car anthems.
Toto - Toto XIV. This was a great album, but, while Joseph Williams may be a technically better singer, and the years have been good to him and his voice, I miss Bobby Kimball's over-the-top vocals, the desperate wails and angry growls of his mighty choruses.  On the whole, a good album...I just wasn't satisfied on a visceral level.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Happy New Year! Let's Talk About Death

I've been thinking a lot about death lately.

Admittedly, I do work in hospitals. Plenty of sick patients, and, as they say in Scrubs, sometimes it seems like Death is just another coworker. A coworker we fight against and do our best to foil every day, at every turn.
Recently on the floors, they called a rapid response when a patient displayed seizure activity. I arrived at the scene and heard the story from the witnesses, and got ready to turn the patient on his side in case he vomited. AK, one of my residents, arrived right on my heels, looked at the patient and asked me if the patient had a pulse.

He did not.

I turned him on to his back. She told me to start compressions, which I promptly did. My other resident arrived and he and AK ran the code. I did what I was told, helping to perform chest compressions while another team member breathed for him and another team member drew up medications. We performed CPR until the Zoll monitor told us it was time to shock him. After two shocks, we were able to successfully resuscitate the patient, took him straight to the ER, and from there he went to the cardiac catheterization lab. A couple of days later I saw him in a hospital room, recovering.
He looked awesome. He was relaxed, breathing easily, and did not look at all like the choking, gasping, swollen man I saw on the floor that day.
That's one of those times when it seems amazing, what we can do. We brought a man back to life. And he walked out of the hospital and will go on to live his life. Take that, Death. Checkmate (for this round).

On the other hand, I remember all too well the first time I watched someone die. It was in the emergency room. I was working a night shift during my last month as a third-year medical student. I had just done my tenth rectal exam that week, and was settling in for what I was hoping would be an interesting shift. Well, I got that and then some. She was 93 years old, African American, with several comorbidities. She came in with shortness of breath, and the rest was a blur. She could not maintain her oxygen saturations, but her pre-written advanced directive orders did not allow for transfer to higher level of care. We could not intubate her to give her more oxygen, and more importantly, she did not want us to do that. I don't remember what nursing home she came from, or even what her name was. I remember being told to take her blood pressure, and asking her how she felt. All she did was smile at me. A wan, accepting smile that was weighed down by pain, an inability to oxygenate, and 93 years of life experience. A wry, humble smile that was matched by the dim light in her eyes - a smile that will remain with me for a long, long time. She gave me that smile, and I had no idea what to say to her. All I could do was smile weakly back, and give my best reassuring grip of her hand. That grip of mine, while not the strongest or the largest of hands, usually serves to reassure patients that I'm doing my best for them and that I'm working hard to get them better. But in her hand...to be honest, I am not sure who was reassuring whom: The medical student who was doing his best to feign calm, or the elderly lady who was ready to face the next world. Soon her breathing became more labored, and the nurse came to tell us. My attending beckoned me along and we ordered a narcotic pain medication to ease her work of breathing. She got drowsier, and then we just stood there as she breathed her last. Her breathing stopped, her heart soon joined it, and that dim light in her eyes finally dimmed to nothing.
The hardest part was then, we had to just move on. There were other patients that required more immediate assistance, and we couldn't afford to dwell on it at the time.

I recently started listening to The House of God on audiobook. It's my second time with the book, the first time being a read-through in my third year of medical school (shortly before that ER shift), not to mention my repeated viewings of Scrubs, which is loosely based on some of the book's satirical concepts. An OB/GYN attending I once worked with told me I should read the book three times - as a medical student, again as an intern, and again after completing residency. In the first chapter of the book, the chief of medicine illustrates the hospital's mission statement of "doing everything always for everyone forever to keep the patient alive." A lot has changed since 1978, and that policy is not the end-all, be-all it used to be. Now, a part of nearly every History & Physical we interns write is a conversation about what the patient's end-of-life wishes are. Well, it's supposed to be a part of that H&P. Such conversations are uncomfortable for both the physician and the patient, and we often do not like having them. Or, as a palliative care attending I know will tell you, "too many doctors are afraid to have that conversation, or even say the word 'die.'"
Every palliative care specialist will tell you that having that conversation is not, as The House of God states so flippantly, "Getting the DNR." It's about knowing the patient and what they want. How they feel about the end of their life, whether it's coming soon or decades away. It's like getting consent for any other procedure - it's explaining the risks and benefits of cardiopulmonary resuscitation and intubation. And it's about respecting the patient's wishes once they make their informed decision. That doesn't make it any easier to talk about, though.

You know what I remember most about that code? The dull, sickening crunch of the patient's ribs breaking with that first compression. It's a sound I have heard multiple times in codes and, to break any illusion of eloquence, it freaking sucks. We may joke about it, but it's a terrible sound. And granted, sometimes it's a small sacrifice to make to restart the patient's heart. And in this case, he was a young enough guy that he recovered quickly. But sometimes...that's not the case. Sometimes those broken ribs just compound the fact that the patient's heart was only barely resuscitated, and he/she/they cannot be weaned off the ventilator. Sometimes it's that they required CPR and multiple shocks for so long that they suffered anoxic brain injury because we could not get the blood pumped to the brain in time, and for the rest of their lives, they will be unable to tell us anything about their thoughts or wishes.

When someone decides to become a physician, he/she usually does not consider this part. We become doctors "because we want to help people" but in our heads that is often synonymous with saving lives. With performing "heroic measures" to bring patients back from the dead, and watching them walk out of the hospital. Never once do we think about the other side of it. About what to do when people don't want those measures. About how to talk to a family about letting their relative go because he/she just cannot fight anymore, or how to accept that a patient wants to die with dignity and on their own terms rather than facing the possible adverse consequences of our so-called "heroic measures." Because we don't always want to think about that. We imagine the oft-used, "if it was my mother or father" scenario to help us counsel the patients...but in this case, that thought often terrifies us. We can bring ourselves to deal with patient deaths, and shrug those off, but when it comes to our own family, we often feel powerless. All of our medical insight and education becomes clouded as we find ourselves on the patient side. Even in our imaginations.
And that's when we question ourselves. We can't help but wonder if it is worth it (in these particular cases). Are our "heroic measures" there to protect the patient from death, or to protect us, the physicians, from having to deal with death?

The one-line answer is that there's a balance between the two sides of that sentence. 

But there is no easy way to find that balance, nor is there a universal way. But if we as doctors truly want to be the best physicians we can be (and, if that aforementioned palliative care attending has her druthers) - for the sake of the patients - we will never stop trying to find that balance.