Gabriel Weston: He was very, very angry about the fact that he was going to die

My toughest case

I was on call one evening when I was asked to go to accident and emergency to see a man in his early twenties with abdominal pain. I was a junior surgeon doing my six-month stints in various surgical specialties before deciding on one, this particular one being called general surgery.

An incredibly handsome, young and fit man was waiting for me. He looked really well although he complained of a general ache in his abdomen and being constipated. When I examined him and did blood tests I couldn't find anything that looked particularly abnormal so I sent him home with some laxatives.

He came back to A&E again when I was next on call, three days later. He looked much more uncomfortable so I brought my registrar down to see him and we decided to do a CT scan to have a look at his gut.

The investigation showed that this young man had a really advanced bowel cancer, one you usually associate with people in their fifties and sixties. When you're very young your cells are incredibly active, your metabolism faster and the cancer very aggressive. We took him to the operating theatre and when we opened him up we saw the cancer in his abdomen and sigmoid colon had wrapped itself around all of his main blood vessels and had spread to the liver. You could almost see the cancer growing before your eyes.

All we were able to do was give him a stoma, which was to take a piece of his bowel and attach it to the abdominal wall so his bowel could empty into a bag.

A week of me doing night shifts coincided with the last seven days of this man's life. I used to go and see him every morning before I went home. He was very, very angry about the fact that he was going to die. They sent round psychologists to talk to him about how he needed to accept that he was dying but, understandably, he wouldn't really talk to anyone. When I visited him he didn't really talk to me, he just sat there getting sicker and sicker.

My night shifts were done and I was about to have a week off. I went to see him and just before I went he put his hand over mine.

He died a couple of hours after I left him.

It was a lesson in the limitations of what you can do as a doctor. Seeing how incredible and awful life can be. It's not a case that was difficult for me technically but it taught me that you're not going to make the slightest bit of difference a lot of the time.

Being so junior, I felt it was my job to give him some company for a few minutes, even though he never gave me any reason to think that he wanted it. He never met my eyes or communicated, except for that final gesture.

'Direct Red: A Surgeon's Story' by Gabriel Weston is out now published by Vintage

Suggested Topics
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
CSKA Moscow celebrate after equalising with a late penalty

Arts and Entertainment
Life and Style
Designer Oscar de la Renta takes a bow after showing his Spring 2015 collection in September, his last show before his death
fashionThe passing of the legendary designer has left a vacancy: couturier to America’s royalty, says fashion editor Alexander Fury
Life and Style

Company reveals $542m investment in start-up building 'a rocket ship for the mind'

Bourgogne wine maker Laboure-Roi vice president Thibault Garin (L) offers the company's 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau wine to the guest in the wine spa at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort facilities in Hakone town, Kanagawa prefecture, some 100-kilometre west of Tokyo
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    IT Project Manager

    Competitive: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Chelmsford a...

    Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

    £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

    Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

    £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

    IT Manager

    £40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

    Day In a Page

    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

    Want to change the world? Just sign here

    The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
    How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

    How to Get Away with Murder

    Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
    A cup of tea is every worker's right

    Hard to swallow

    Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
    12 best children's shoes

    Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

    Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
    Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

    Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

    Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
    British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

    British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

    Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
    Let's talk about loss

    We need to talk about loss

    Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
    Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

    Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

    Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
    Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

    'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

    If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
    James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
    Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

    Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

    Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
    Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

    Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

    Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why