My Face Everyday
A resident talks about a young patient
As residents we get very busy and stressed out and sometimes forget that we can make a difference in somebody’s life. I was helping to take care of a 14-year-old girl with a recent diagnosis of AML. It felt like every time I walked into this girl’s room she was upset with me. I’d say something stupid like, “Oh, is your hair starting to fall out?” and she’d cry. Or I’d ask, “Is that rash itchy?” and she said, “Of course it is, are you stupid?"
She always wanted to know when one of the attendings would be in, and why did I have to examine her in addition to Dr. W. or Dr. D.? She really didn’t want to have anything to do with me, but every day I came in and examined her and got to know her a little bit. One morning, just as I about to pre-round, I heard an overhead page for the on-call resident to a room number that was hers. A bunch of people started to run, but I beat them there.
She was sitting up in bed, her sats were down in the low 80′s, her blood pressure was low, her heart rate was up, and she looked at me with the most grave face I have ever seen. Platelets were infusing. We stopped the platelets, gave saline, watched her vitals, and over the course of about 10 minutes she was looking much better.
I said, “Okay, I’m going to go out and call the blood bank and call Dr. D. so that she can come in and make sure everything is okay,” but the patient reached out her hand, touched me on the elbow, and said, “Don’t go.” And so I didn’t. Maybe it was just seeing my face every day, there was something comforting about my presence in the room when she was scared, when she thought she was dying. After the first few minutes I had no medical purpose for being in the room, but she wanted me there. I mean, how moving is that?…that our job lets us affect somebody that way?