Why I Do What I Do

The important things I get out of Medicine

Today I decided that I’ll focus on sharing one of the important things I get out of Medicine rather than joining the ranks of Americans trying to analyze whats wrong with healthcare. I suppose you learn to do amazing things during years training to become a doctor.

For instance, I found out that I can hold my bladder for thirteen hours. I also found out that it can become second nature to learn to think clearly and without emotion when operating on another human at the end of a thirty-two hour work day. Of course, the problem with this skill is that when the operation is over, your emotion can be just as important as your intellect in your patient’s treatment.

I bring this up because today, I had a patient encounter that reminds me why I do what I do. A few days ago, I was asked to help take care of a woman with an infection whose immune system was weak from chemotherapy. In April last year, she broke her left leg. Two months later, she was diagnosed with sarcoma. She had months of chemotherapy, followed by surgery and almost 70 radiation treatments. She was just about as sick of hospitals as anyone could be, but she was still funny and upbeat. I had enjoyed talking with her each time I saw her to make sure the infection was clearing.

When I walked into her room this afternoon, I thought it would be a quick visit. She was supposed to go home once a few final labs were done, and she had just gotten her lunch tray. Half an hour later, we were still talking and exchanging stories. As I handed her my card so she could schedule an appointment to follow-up in the office, she held my hand and thanked me for being so kind to her during the four days I had taken care of her. With tears welling up in her eyes, she said that I couldn’t possibly understand how much it meant to have a doctor who really cared.

It is difficult to put the impact of her words into writing without sounding like I am giving myself a part on the back for doing the very things I have taken an oath to do, but as a physician it is often easy to come off like surgical outcomes are the only things that really matter in treatment. I sometimes wish I didn’t exactly know quite how much it meant to have a doctor who really cared, but I gave my mother my word that I would always remember to treat every patient the way I would want her to be treated. I guess it might also be difficult for her to know how much it means to hear that I would be making my mother proud of me.