As I step carefully into the sterile field / past the rows of scalpels, forceps and clamps, / I sense a gentle fluttering in my chest.
The instant I activated my phone, it rang. I steadied my microphone and saw 34 callers in the queue. “COVID-19 Hotline,” I answered.
This period of healing set Lori on a long road that was paved with pain. She lived in chronic pain from the fistula. While her physicians delicately weighed her safety with pain relief, she learned to balance both patience and uncertainty.
A fog of emotions blankets the waiting room:
Stress and anxiety, with some impending doom.
Logan’s healing was in his death. Mine was in a game of Monopoly.
As a high school volunteer in my local hospital’s oncology unit, I remember the sinking feeling in my stomach every time I saw the bright “Contact Precautions” sign on the door. I would begrudgingly don a flimsy plastic gown, fix a tight surgical mask around my ears, snap on a pair of gloves and proceed into the patient’s room.
It is morning outside, the sun barely kissing the horizon. The curtains have been drawn in an attempt to force any lick of light from the room. But one slim shard cuts through the drapes, illuminating John’s face.
Over the next few days, workup revealed she was experiencing paraneoplastic cerebellar degeneration, a manifestation of her occult cancer. In a matter of three days, a patient who had come in for seemingly benign constipation was told she had metastatic lung cancer.
There has recently been an increasing appreciation for social determinants of health. The term encompasses the circumstances in which people live, including factors such as income, race, food, housing, transportation and environmental conditions.
“You know, not all of us can be small,” the patient, a well-appearing woman in moderate anxious distress, said as she motioned with her hands and rolled her eyes towards me. “It’s disgusting,” she added.
Three knocks, no answer. “Good morning Mr. Adams!” I call as I peek into his room, flicking the lights on. I am wheeling a small, flailing tablet and it unstably spins left and right, back and forth, until I park it by my patient’s bed.
Mr. Adams had heart; I will give him that. Presenting for ankle pain, altered mental status and shortness of breath, it quickly became apparent that a far more worrisome picture was being painted with each passing day.