Mr. Jefferson’s “perfect peace” by Monica Williams-Murphy, MD

Sunday, 24 Aug 2014 06:20

About Dr. Monica Williams-Murphy (120 Posts)

Dr. Monica Williams-Murphy is a Board Certified Emergency Medicine Physician, who practices in one of the largest emergency departments in the United States at Huntsville Hospital. Through her writing and speaking, she is devoted to transforming the end of life into a time of peace, closure and healing. Media Page

Most of the time I feel as though I am “running in quicksand” attempting to bring patients to a place of grace and dignity in dying. On occasion, there is someone who jerks me out of my quicksand and plants me squarely on stable shore and then proceeds to show me what grace and dignity in the face of death really look and feel like.

Please meet Mr. Jefferson.

Mr. Jefferson had long, lacy eyelashes and puppy dog eyes. His smile was a mile wide. When I came into his room, he spoke first, welcoming me. I knew of course that this would be a unique experience…

“Hi Doctor Murphy, the nurse told me all about you!” he smiled.

“Well,” I quipped, “it’s either all lies or a paid endorsement” and I reached out to shake his hand.

He reached out and gave me his wrist-nub. There was no hand. I shook it without pause (emergency medicine prepares you to react normally in abnormal circumstances).

Continuing to attempt a “normal” patient encounter, I asked: “So what brings you in today?”

“Well this for one,” he pulled back the covers to reveal his swollen, tense abdomen. He had the appearance of having swallowed a couple of basketballs and the veins of his belly were bright and distinct, criss-crossing like a google-map of winding highways.

“Oh, yes, I see,” raising my eyebrows a bit while noting in his chart that he has required paracenteses recently.

Before I could begin to question the reasons for his girth, he continued on, “And I need to see the hospice people.”

“You do?” I asked, rather shocked. I was no longer able to “act normal.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Mr. Jefferson replied. Then he said, “Doctor maybe you should sit down.”

I sat.

Mr. Jefferson proceeded to tell me his life story in a brief and touching vignette. He had married his high school sweetheart. They had a marvelous life together until he began to suffer the ravages of poorly controlled diabetes. Two legs lost and one hand amputation later he could no longer take her dancing. Then his kidneys and liver failed. Now he was on dialysis 3 times a week and had needles stuck into his belly on a regular basis to relieve his suffering. “But now, I’m done. I’m ready to ‘go home’ and I need hospice to help my sweet wife to get ready for me dying,” he said as he reached out his wrist-nub to pat my hand.

I responded just like any highly, trained professional would…I burst into tears.

He responded gently to me. “Oh no, really…don’t cry for me doctor. You see, I’m ok with this. I’m even looking forward to it, because when I get to heaven I’m going to do a Christian dance. I will have my hand back and I’ll be able to move my legs. Then, I am going to practice dancing till my wife comes to join me.”

I think I cried a little harder.

I attempted to straighten myself up but could not, so I reached out to hold his wrist-nub and apologized. “Mr. Jefferson, I am so sorry that I’m crying but I have never met anyone like you. You see, I spend a lot of time talking to people about how to make dying peaceful, but you…”

“You don’t worry about me, doctor, I have perfect peace. Perfect peace.”

I was speechless.

Finally, I got myself together and we made a plan to draw more fluid off his belly and to call in the hospice nurse for intake evaluation.

As I turned to leave, I thanked him for giving me the honor of taking care of him. And then I said, “Mr. Jefferson, I will always remember you.”

Smiling, he said, “I will always remember you too.”


As always names and some details have been changed to protect the privacy of patients. Date of publication has no relevance to the date of the patient encounter.

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"It's OK to Die" is a ground-breaking book filled with graphic stories straight out of the Emergency Room illustrating how most Americans are completely unprepared for death and dying. In response, the authors have created a unique and comprehensive guide urging EVERYONE to prepare in advance, to assure their own peace and to prevent the suffering of their loved ones.
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4 thoughts on “Mr. Jefferson’s “perfect peace” by Monica Williams-Murphy, MD

  1. stephanie amis

    Reading this brought me to tears also. Great read! Some patients are perfectly aware and ready and the family needs support while other patients are in a deep river of denial and they family is the one who is aware. Both still need care and comfort and support Hospice so wonderfully provides.
    Thanks again for the blog posts. You are doing great things for this area of medicine.
    Stephanie A.

  2. Rea

    Wholeness will return someday. So it is written. Helen Keller will see and Mr. Jefferson will dance. Peace. Healing.

    Beautifully said. So worth remembering!

  3. Pingback: Mr. Jefferson’s ‘perfect peace’ by Monica Williams-Murphy, MD | It’s OK to Die | Loss, Grief, Transitions and Relationship Support

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