Wednesday, February 23, 2011

When "the patient" is a member of your family

Every day we step into the hospital and we experience the realities of life. The rawness of human emotion, of pain, of joy, of family, of living, of dying. We have endured years of training in able to cope with these complexities of the human condition. With more experience we learn what to say and how to act. This is how we daily participate in the lives of others, our patients.

My goal as a physician is treat each one of my patient's as if they were someone in my family. This ensures that for each new person that I greet I do so at my very best. The bottom line though is that my patients are not really members of my family. What happens when the patient is? When someone of utmost significance in your life is the one in the gown?

I have seen it in medical school and in residency where colleagues of mine have had to very impressively push through the academic rigor while going through personal devastation with a sick/dying relative. This has happened to me as well. We, as doctors (along with our families), are NOT immune to the very thing that we spend our careers chasing after (PERFECT HEALTH).  Where in all of our training are we prepared to deal with that?

This past week I lost my grandmother to COPD. She was such an example of strength and all that is good in this world. She was an accomplished nurse (trained during world war II) and one of the reasons that I went into medicine in the first place. My mother is also an AMAZING nurse practitioner and human being. These two women have taught me more in my life than most.  It is through watching them, that I have become who I am.

My mother really deserves all of the credit of what I am about to say, because she has lived it these past few months/weeks. As she demonstrated, we as healthcare practitioners, have an advantage for ourselves and our families in that we TRULY understand what is going on. We are realistic and accustomed to facing grave issues of life and death and prognosis and hospitalizations.

However, what I have learned in the past few weeks is that first and foremost you must be there for your loved one as FAMILY. You must remove your MD/RN title and way of being. Listen. Care. Laugh. Cry. Help. Contribute. Ask questions. Be a part of the healthcare decisions, but know when to step back. 

When the patient was my grandmother, all she really needed was for me to put ICY HOT on her legs, and I did just that.

My dear Grandma,
Thank you for your kindness, love, patience, and all the things that you have taught me. You will be missed! XO

I will forever greet each new patient as if they were you...

1 comment:

  1. I have read (and/or gone over in my head) this blog probably 20 times in the past months. I find it to be a good reminder at 02:00 in the morning as I finish my reports. I find it to be a good reminder at 15:30 when I'm waiting for the pager to go off, and would rather be at home, why it is that I do what I do. It helps me remember even in times of crisis to become tender and take that extra 30 seconds to help the family understand and work through the crisis. I appreciate that you took the time to write down and remind everyone what it is to be on the other side of the hospital bed.
    I to am very thankfull for one of the last of many lessons grandma had to teach us. Thanks again.