A Big Favor

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 read aloud what he wrote in hisEssay Photo jagged handwriting: “Could you do me a big favor? Call my wife and tell her I love her.”

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.

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14 thoughts on “A Big Favor

  1. I am glad you are doing this again. You have an wonderful voice and the community will benefit from understanding the unique “Big City” challenges that Henry Ford Hospital faces in Regional Detroit.
    David Goldbaum
    Center for Community Health Research
    dgoldbaum@c4chr.org

  2. Thank you for your kind note. I’m glad to be back and I am grateful for the opportunity to share the stories and good work done by our team.

  3. This is the reason why I wanted to come back to the HFHS after being away for 18 1/2 years. We can never be too busy to just take a moment to pause to be present for our patients and visitors.

  4. Eloquent compassion in simple words. Moving finger writes and having writ does not not move on but lingers in your heart. Beautiful Essay.

  5. The beauty of a human heart, sick or not, still feels, still loves. Thank You. This is what patient care is all about. I try to leave my patients with at least one positive, while registering. It sets the mode for the entire visit. That compassion means so much!

  6. That is very touching thank you so much for sharing it with us! We get busy and sometimes we forget that our patients are people too. They have lives and loved ones and they are with us during scary times of their lives. A simple smile can change the day someone is having.

  7. Thank you all for your messages. We appreciate you taking time out of your day to share your thoughts with us.

  8. For all health caregivers: We are in the people business – one human being at a time.

  9. Thank you Dr. Park for writing such a moving essay in honor of our long time late editor Dr.Joseph Weiss. The Wayne County Medical Society and its editorial board are proud of you as the winner of our first essay contest.
    Congratulations and we hope you will continue to write.

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