I met a patient at preop for an elective sigmoid resection for a malignant mass in her colon. She had no previous surgical history. Unfortunately the patient was widowed and lived alone and had some understandable concerns about her recovery. She seemed anxious and a bit nervous about the procedure. I introduced myself before the surgery and tried to the best of my current ability to answer any questions she had.
As we spoke, I sensed her anxiety about being in the OR, so I sat there just talking to her awhile. She asked me questions about my medical education, and I asked her about her life. She had just moved to Detroit from Mississippi. The patient was also a Jehovah’s Witness; therefore, she would not accept any blood transfusions. We spoke about her beliefs concerning blood donations as I wanted to understand her perspective since I might encounter this circumstance in the future. We had a great conversation. The patient shared stories about living in Mississippi, and I spoke about my upbringing in California.
As the time arrived to head to the OR, she said she felt more at ease and thanked me for sitting and talking to her. She requested my presence and mentioned that she would feel more comfortable seeing a familiar face after surgery. Everything in her surgery went well and it took her sometime to wake up from anesthesia. So I stayed in the PACU (post-anesthesia care unit) until she woke up to inform her personally on how well the procedure went and wish her a positive recovery.
In becoming a physician, we train for years from the classroom to rotations to internships. We gain plenty of knowledge on how to treat patients but very little training on how to treat patients as people. When you take care of a patient, not only do you treat their medical condition, but we also treat the person as a whole, mentally and spiritually. Borrowing and rephrasing a quote from Albert Einstein, medicine without compassion is lame. In order to rise to the true form of a holistic physicians, we need to display compassion by talking to the patients, addressing their fears and concerns, respecting and accommodating their practices and beliefs, and being culturally competent.