Disclaimer: All patient identifiers and specifics are omitted to maintain patient confidentiality and comply with HIPAA.
I wake you every morning at 6:30 AM to examine you and see how your night went. In the afternoon, I take you for a walk around the unit to help you maintain your strength. We talk about the business you used to own, your family, and your favorite sports teams. When we return to your room, I help you finalize your applications for healthcare and food stamps (I know you cannot afford the 3,000+ calories you eat in the hospital.). Back in the team room, I find a small amount of research on a novel therapy, and suggest it everyday for over a week. When all other causes are ruled out, the attending agrees to try the new therapy. Within 24 hours you have improved and you leave the hospital soon after.
You taught me to fight for my patients.
As I read through your referral documents, sadness washes over me. You are 89, with metastatic lung cancer to the brain. I prepare myself for goals of care discussion – an 89 year old individual rarely has the health and strength to go through radiation and chemotherapy. But when I walk into the room with my attending, you look 70. I learn that you have zero health problems, you are active in your community, live on your own, and still drive. Your memory, concentration, and math are incredible. After the exam, we discuss treatment to keep your symptoms at bay. Everyone knows we cannot get rid of the cancer – it is too far along – but we can make your life relatively normal. You will dance at your grandson’s wedding.
You taught me to treat the patient, not the number.
You came to the psychiatry residency clinic for a new patient evaluation. Within an hour, I know more about you than your best friend does. I am surprised by your willingness to tell me your secrets, but at the end of the session, I see a weight lifted off your shoulders – you are no longer carrying the burden alone.
You taught me to never take for granted or underestimate the trust patients have in their healthcare team.
Everyday I see and help treat individuals who do not have to let me examine them. They tell me their secrets, show me odd rashes, lumps, and bumps, and let me see them at their most vulnerable. Without patients, my education would be four long years of memorization, and I would lose the most important part of my education. I would not learn how to tell a patient’s family that Grandma will pass away soon. I would not learn how to ask the “sex, drugs, and rock and roll” questions. I would not learn to treat everyone, not just the patient. My patients teach me so much, and for that I am forever grateful. Thank you, to everyone who makes the choice to come to a teaching hospital instead of a private one. You are the teachers of the next generation of physicians.
In any relationship, there must be trust. There is trust between patient and doctor and there is trust between athlete and coach. The patient wants to feel better, and the athlete wants to get faster and stronger. Once the doctor or coach has accepted responsibility for their charge, it is taken for granted that even on a personal level, they will do their very best for their patient or athlete.
The more medicine I study, the clearer it is that trust and constructive social interactions underpin successful practice in any field. I have been a part of smoothly functioning medicine teams and teams that stumble through morning rounds due to differing opinions. Likewise, we all know the great success stories of sports teams coming together to overcome great odds (US Men’s Hockey team winning gold in the 1980 Winter Olympics, anyone?), and we have all witnessed teams crash and burn. This is why I am so happy to be on the USMES team and coached by Kyle Pawlaczyk – I have found a team and coach I embrace and trust, who provide incredible support, and stand behind my goals of being a professional athlete and doctor.