To kick off the return of Doc in the D, I wanted to share something special that truly touched my heart. The journey we take in our professions is personal but also shared. Much of the shared experience is not technical; it is related to the humanity of our roles and calling.
Some among us can provide insights into this far better than others. They can describe the emotional subtleties, the push and pull on our professional and personal lives, and the fundamental thread of our connectivity with our patients.
A brilliant (and award winning) essay by one of our surgical residents, Dr. Ko Un Clara Park, captures this and needs no further introduction.
A Big Favor
I snuck my head in through the sliding door of the ICU to check his vital signs. He was awake. On the ventilator, hooked up to the dialysis machine, but wide awake. We made eye contact. I resisted going in the room but he waved at me to come in. He was on
contact precautions for multi drug resistant pneumonia. It was late. I was tired. All I wanted to do was lay down for a cat nap before I had to wake up at 3 a.m. to start making the list.
What could he possibly want? I let out a small sigh and gowned up with what was in reality a really expensive blue trash bag.
“Hi, Mr. Smith. You doing alright?”
He was off pressors for a change. His vital signs were stable – what a loaded word. Stably dying, more like, I thought. To state that he had a rocky course after his emergent open thoracoabdominal aneurysm repair would be an understatement. He suffered from renal failure requiring dialysis, pneumonia, respiratory failure, and incision breakdown resulting in a wound the size of a child. He had multiple trips to the operating room where we tried to salvage the incision from breaking down further. A month into his ICU stay and several near codes later I wondered if he would make it out alive.
“Do you need to be suctioned?”
I looked around for the yankour to suction his mouth. He shook his head and pointed to the pen and paper. He had severe critical care myopathy and could barely lift his hand to write. I shoved the pen in his hand and held the paper up so he could write. Pain medicines, need to be turned, mouth swabs. I ran down the laundry list of common things that patients asked for but he persistently kept writing.
I was instantly ashamed of my cynicism, for counting down the clock until my shift ended, for being annoyed that I had to gown up to come into his room. How quickly I forgot. He isn’t just a patient; he is someone’s loving husband, son and father.
“Of course, “I answered. Half his lips had necrosed away from the pressure ulcer of the endotracheal tube. But he let out a smile through it.
I felt my eyes burn as the corners welled up with tears. I quickly left the room before he could see it. I dialed the phone number to his home to have one of the most gratifying phone calls of my life.
Hosted by the Wayne County Medical Society of Southeast Michigan (WCMSSM), the Joseph J. Weiss, M.D. Memorial Essay Contest was created to honor Dr. Weiss, a longtime Detroit Medical News editor. Dr. Park was presented with the award during the WCMSSM Annual Business Meeting in May 2016.