Bob Bruce and I are now running headlong into week 5 of the program, but it feels like we have only been here since yesterday. Each day is met with some new excitement or challenge that keeps me, ahem, alert and oriented x 3. For me it is truly an exciting time of learning how medicine works, how to care for patients, and how to think through patients’ concerns in order to best serve their needs. Each night I leave the hospital, I consider it a deep joy to be given the privilege of participating in the care of patients at St. Mary’s. Whether it is the excitement of new life entering the world, or the grief and solemnity of life exiting this world, as medical students we are given the great privilege of witnessing, and even participating in these events. I must constantly ask for the humility to never take this privilege lightly. There are a couple of patient encounters this past week that made this clear.
Over the weekend, I was on the hospitalist service and we were evaluating a patient in the ICU. The team was doing everything possible to keep her condition from deteriorating however, her prognosis was poor. We made sure to find her husband and deliver this news. We then had the husband visit his wife in the ICU. He walked up to her bed, spoke her name and simply said “I love you.” It took three words and suddenly my perspective turned 180 degrees. I couldn’t help but think, what if that was my wife on her potential deathbed? What would I be doing or thinking? Medicine seemed so powerless in the face of death. I think the husband knew this and so he said what no one else could say. I can only imagine that behind those three words was a lifetime of service, sacrifice, forgiveness, repentance and caring that can only be understood by two people who have lived the majority of their lives together.
Earlier in the week, I was doing the history and physical exam on a patient who had been admitted. During the exam I noticed that she was incredibly anxious about an upcoming diagnostic test. After I finished the exam I asked her if she wanted someone to pray with her about her anxiety. Her eyes lit up and she grabbed my hand and asked me to pray for her. Of course, I was thinking a chaplain or priest was a much more appropriate person for the job, but told her that I would gladly pray for her. This was humbling to me – that a patient was willing to have 3rd year medical student pray with them, rather than consult the priest or chaplain. This patient barely knew me, I had only just taken her history and physical exam, and yet she trusted me to pray with her. I was able to observe her test later in the morning and she proceeded through the procedure quite well. The Holy Spirit, plus a little bit of Xanax, works every time.
It is these very human moments of medicine that often confuse me more than the pathophysiology of disease (though this still really confuses me). It is the interaction with patients that is the true joy and often, true challenge of medicine. Ultimately, I believe none of us would be in the health field if we did not find joy in this interaction. I know for myself that I can show up each day with excitement because there are patients who need to be served and through this service, patients teach me not only about medicine, but also what it means to be human.