I went through medical school without experiencing the death of a patient I had personally cared for. In contrast to what may be seen on the trauma service, my surgery clerkship was full of routine procedures: appendectomies and cholecystectomies, port placements, excisions of pilonidal cysts, and miscellaneous “ditzels,” as pathologists may refer to them as. Sure, I have had patients who were quite sick and did not have much time left to live. For example, I once performed a neurologic exam on a comatose teenager in the ICU, whose arteriovenous malformation had bled wildly out of control despite prior neurosurgery. But with the constant shuffling of rotations that medical students must endure, I was always in and out of patients’ lives before they had a chance to leave mine.
During morning rounds, the resident and I stopped by our young patient’s room. He was technically five weeks old, but was born five weeks prematurely, so all in all, he was delightfully newborn-sized. The nurse was sitting in a recliner, holding him. He was well enough to be held. We finished rounds, ate breakfast, and headed to the OR. Our work unexpectedly finished early for the day, and I was free to go. Instead of immediately leaving the hospital, I headed back to our young patient’s room.