Carefully Orchestrated

Carefully Orchestrated

A third-year student talks about a patient’s mother

When I was on one of my surgery subspecialty rotations, I came in early one morning to pre-round and found that my patient’s mother was crying. I asked her what was wrong, and she said that she really didn’t want her son to have surgery that day. He had been in the hospital for about 9 days after an accident with multiple injuries and had to have surgeries almost every day.

In the same accident, his cousin, who was also his best friend, died. The patient didn’t know that yet because he had never been awake and coherent enough for his parents to tell him. The mother was very distraught that her son would be having jaw surgery and would have his jaw wired shut and be unable to talk well for several weeks. There was some confusion and disagreement between the two parents and a lot of emotional stress on the mom. I went into the room, and she looked at me with her eyes full of tears and asked, “Isn’t there anything you can do?”

I was the med student and realized that this surgery was a very carefully orchestrated event that would involve plastic surgeons and ENT surgeons and OR staff and anesthesia and everybody else and that it had been quite a task to schedule it in the first place. As I looked at the patient and saw that he was completely sedated and really not so much aware of what was going on and looked at his mom and saw how upset she was, I realized that this patient just could not have the surgery that day. I decided that there had to be something that could be done, so at 5:00 in the morning I paged the ENT and Plastics residents to tell them that this surgery needed to not happen.

After several conversations with various residents and fellows and attending physicians and the patient’s parents, the surgery was rescheduled for the next day. Not everyone was happy about this since the surgery had been such a huge deal to organize. I felt like I had made my upper level resident really angry and probably stepped outside of my “med student role,” but I felt the need to stand my ground and support my patient’s mother.

When I went to see the patient and his parents the next morning, they were soooo much happier and still so tired, but so relieved and so much less distraught, and very very thankful to me and to the whole team for giving them that extra day to spend with their son. They were even able to talk to him about his cousin. It was a great experience because I learned to really be a patient advocate.

People really appreciate it when you take the time to listen to them and allow them to make decisions about their treatment and encourage them to have choices. I was so glad that I was able to stand up for what I believed in and not worry so much about how low I am on the totem pole but worry more about what I felt was right and what I needed to do to be able to sleep well at night. I think that’s very challenging as a med student, to be able to stick to your guns about things.