Sunday, March 1, 2009

All the sweeter

Today, a patient's family member hugged me. When I saw her standing in the hallway, by the room her father was in when he passed away peacefully last week, I wondered who she had come to see. Her father, a patient who was "comfort care," was now gone. The room held someone else.

I smiled at her and the next thing I knew, she was throwing her arms around me in the middle of the hallway.

She was here with the rest of the family, wanting to thank the staff, wanting to tell us of the funeral arrangements. She had told us last week that if she ever had cancer, this was the way she wanted it to be. This was the care she would have wanted.

My team has taken care of many, many patients with cancer these past few weeks. In a way, it's been depressing. There's just so much cancer. But in ways like this, it has been deeply fulfilling to be able to make a difference in the lives (or end of life) of patients and families.

I'm reaching the end of a particularly long stint of attending on the medicine wards. I thought that I would be ravaged by working the weekends, of not being able to spend as much time with my children as I wanted. I thought I would be impatient, tired, and annoyed.

Yet, today, coming home after a day of weekend rounding, I feel renewed.

Several patients expressed how much they appreciated me taking care of them. One grandfatherly figure said that he felt better just by me coming to talk to him and joked that even his gouty ankles were smiling at me. One, despite being frustrated at still not feeling completely better, told me how much he felt I made a difference. One, slowly getting better, said thank you in a way that made me humble. One, confused about what was going on, shook my hand with both of his after I gave him the diagram I drew of where in the biliary system we thought his obstruction was.

I don't know whether, with time, I'm getting better at interacting interpersonally with my patients, or that I just happen to be taking care of an appreciative bunch, but I can tell you I feel like each conversation I have with a patient lately has been therapeutic. I feel like I am personally making a difference in their hospitalization, that my joking with them, or trying to make their illness experience better in small, tangible ways, is making a difference.

Today, I came home, picked up, and twirled my 13-month old son, delighting in feeling his weight, his sweetness.

All the more sweeter from having such a fulfilling day in the hospital.

And, I thought to myself: I am good at this. This is my calling. I can't imagine doing anything else.


  1. Great moments to remember when tough things happen.

  2. They comfort and reassure you as you do them! Very touching. Don't quit your day job!

  3. I once had an adult child of a patient(in a practice I ran, we were discussing the ins co's "payment" for chemo) say: Please don't let my mom die, ok?
    And then he hugged me. I think I cried for months every time I thought of that moment. Typing this I just realized I still do.
    ps basically I'm trying to say I greatly admire what you do.


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