There are patients who leave lasting impressions on us in one way or another throughout our training. I had never expected an angry, alcoholic patient who left against medical advice to be one of those patients for me.
His right leg jittered beneath his orange, prison-issued jumpsuit. The manacles across his wrists rattled with the chain connecting them to the cuffs around his ankles.
I had just started my third year, and I had already witnessed six patients die. I had never been called a black cloud before this, but it immediately stuck and seemed fitting.
Through my patient’s same wants and needs, I saw my own thoughts, feelings, hopes, dreams, fears and my own desire to be liked, to be wanted, to be needed. I felt, for the first time in a very long time, a genuine human connection.
My mind kept returning to the patient I had encountered earlier that day. I experienced this subtle feeling that something important had happened. I became curious about the man and his story, but above all, I wondered what the most important part of that appointment had been.
“We have a drug seeker in two,” the nurse declared. My preceptors responded with a long sigh, and they rolled their eyes in unison. My pulse quickened.
“Are you okay, sweetie?” asks the intern as we start to ascend. She is completely unconscious, looking into nothingness. I start to feel the adrenaline. “I don’t think she’s okay,” remarks the intern.
While there is no way to choose our patients’ outcomes, we can certainly choose to be empathetic and compassionate regardless of their outcomes. Medicine without empathy and compassion is not medicine at all.
Empathy is a muscle you have to exercise just like any other. It is a choice. It’s something you have to study and practice and sometimes fail at and always try again.
While being inundated with information on most things that are normal and abnormal about the human body, it is important to remember that we learn all this information to treat patients, not to treat diseases.
“Procurement tonight” — a text / I’ve been anxiously awaiting with both excitement and dread, / for on transplant service this means / a life must be lost to save another’s.
It was pink / like the flowers he buys his wife. / It was not uniform.