What Is the Meaning of Life? That’s a Stupid Question

What one unforgettable patient taught me about life’s meaning.

Sohail Merchant, MD
8 min readMar 23, 2021



82 Years Young and More Fulfilled Than Ever

It was the end of a long and trying day in clinic. I’m a family medicine resident, so my patient list is full — I glanced at the chart. Last one. 82-year-old female in for a routine checkup. I’d finally get to go home after seeing her.

Then there’d be notes to write. Then studying. Maybe an hour to decompress and zone out to some Netflix before bed. Then I’d be back in clinic all over again tomorrow.

I sighed.

After I knocked and entered the room, I was greeted by the healthiest 82-year-old I had ever seen. Perched on the exam table, she had permanent smile lines from decades of laughter and a knowing, youthful sparkle in her eyes. She informed me she was fresh from a round of golf with her two grandsons.

She grinned as I slumped into my chair. “You look tired. Tell me about something you do for fun.”

Fun? I haven’t had any of that in a while. “Um, well, I work a lot right now. Oh, and I study too.”

I know. It had been a long day. Of course there are a million things I enjoy doing. In that moment though, that stuff was miles from my mind — residency is serious business after all.

My patient rolled her eyes. “Sheesh! Some of my dead friends still have more personality than you’re showing.” I did a double-take. Did she really say that? “Go ahead. I know I’m your last patient today,” she said. “Tell me about the meaning of your life. Not THE meaning of life because there’s no such thing. I want to know about the meaning of YOUR life.”

How This Great-Grandmother Added Meaning to Her Life

The more my incredible patient spoke, the more I realized trying to figure out life’s one and only meaning is a waste of time. In fact, those are precious minutes/hours/days you could spend adding more meaning TO your life.

Here I was, 30-something, literally living my lifelong dream of being a doctor. Also run down. Low energy and passively waiting until I could go…



Sohail Merchant, MD

Medical Doctor, Blogger (AIMblog.io), AI Researcher