One of the reasons I went into medicine was because I felt relating to others suffering from disease was natural to me. I never had much difficulty placing myself in another person’s shoes, and thus being able to understand their predicament (for better or worse). Or so I thought. Becoming a physician is filled with challenges, most notably academic in character. However, it is well known that cynicism runs rampant in medical culture, particularly amongst physicians that are overworked, and underpaid (read -> residents). This isn’t exclusive to a particular location, hospital, or specialty. Its been quintessentially captured in the semi-autobiographical novel The House of God, a cult classic amongst doctors and doctors-to-be.
My first taste of this cynicism led me to feel disconnected from my role as a healthcare provider. It revolved around the care of one patient, Mr. D, an elderly gentleman and an avid Seahawks fan. He had multiple chronic diseases, and was admitted for a CHF exacerbation. Mr. D’s kidneys weren’t functioning optimally, and we had trouble adequately diuresing the fluid his body retained without causing further damage to his kidneys. All the while, he was feeling miserable and displeased with being in the hospital. By the second week, we had him on a stable medication regimen. However into the third week, everyone taking care of Mr. D knew that his hospital stay was going to be a lengthy one. It was at this point that I noticed a change in my routine of morning rounds. I would hesitate for a moment before entering Mr. D’s four-person room. The answers to my usual questions for him had rarely changed since he was admitted, and I became pessimistic. I questioned my contribution to his care.
A typical exchange: “How are you feeling this morning, sir?” In a distinctive raspy voice, he’d say “like hell,” or if he was in a clever mood, “the same way my food tastes…like #$%&”. I was so used to hearing his answers that I lost empathy. I was completely detached from the way he was feeling, and the distress his illness(es) were causing him. Then something amazing happened, I got sick. For the next day and a half, I had a fever, nausea, and a whole lot of vomiting. I remembered what it felt like to feel the same way as Mr. D’s food tasted. I was humbled so to speak, and began to think of ways I could make his stay in the hospital a bit easier. So over the next few days, I hooked Mr. D up by tapping into the floor’s supply of chocolate pudding. When Sunday rolled around, I spoke with a few nurses, and with their help we had the Seahawks game projected onto a large white screen for Mr. D and other patients to watch. He was happy, and I was probably happier.
I agree with Mos Def when he said “Life is a beautiful struggle”. And seeing as how medicine is my life right now…it is my beautiful struggle.