Wednesday, May 23, 2007


First, if you’re looking for the Postdoc Carnival (Edition 4), it’s one post down. I’m blushing over the compliments and pleased with the number of visitors. I hope that interested parties found new blogs and entries - there are so many people who grant glimpses of what can be involved with our work. I’m glad my turn is over (I was nervous! I wanted it to be OK.), but will definitely try again if called upon to do so.

Second, I have a bit of a story.

“Maybe we shouldn’t go.” I suggested, watching the clock and starting to fidget in the hospital room. I prayed before I arrived.

“Please don’t let this be awful.” I requested as I gathered files and forms to leave my office far earlier than I expected. Since beginning work with doctors, I’m being cured of my tendency to arrive early. Since patients thus far have paged me up to 60 minutes before our scheduled appointment, I’m discovering people must do a tremendous amount of waiting in hospitals.

I did some myself to make this particular experiment work. In spending an hour watching minutes tick by, making small talk with family members and trying to hurry various staff members along, I have little idea how people tolerate such annoyances when ill. The caveat is that I believe I work at a tremendous institution that truly values patient care. It wasn’t that anyone was being anything less than helpful – it’s just that everything moved really slowly.

The disparity is disconcerting. My patient is my priority – I’ll drop everything to attend to her. In her room, she sometimes fell behind others with more urgent needs. Transport and nursing and meal delivery and paging various doctors. It’s complicated and difficult and exhausting, even to watch.

(I do have a question about med students. How many are there? Must they be everywhere? There are all these children in white coats, milling about, typing on computers, talking to each other in herds. What the hell are they doing? Isn’t one or two sufficient? And when I’m using the elevator with my patient, must they all cram in and lean on her wheelchair? I was forced to glare menacingly at one of the egotistical pups. For crying out loud. Sorry – I’m sure medical students are great and under tremendous stress themselves. But they were the only ones who made my day more difficult.)

We finally got started and as impressed as I was by the hospital staff and their overall attitude (speed notwithstanding), I was awed by my patient. I’ve said before that a willingness to participate in research that has little power to help them moves me.

This one – even among people I respect more than nearly anyone I’ve met – was special. Thrilled to participate even when weak, sparkling with personality even when exhausted.

“Will I get to read about what you’ve found?” She asked when I had her arranged back in her room. I helped organize the food that had been delivered while we were gone, offered to call her family on their cell phones since they were elsewhere in the hospital, fluffed pillows, helped her arrange covers, went to fetch ice, told her nurse we were back.

“Of course.” I answered with a smile as I watched to make sure she didn’t need help pouring her Coke in the styrofoam cup I’d filled with ice chips. I smiled when I realized she has strength I don’t dream of possessing. I stopped for a moment to smile at her, struck with the wonder of triumph of spirit over disease, if only for a few hours. “I’ll let you know when I have something pulled together and we’ll talk again in a few weeks. Then I can see how much better you’re doing.”

“I hope so.” She offered in a slightly raspy voice that lilted with…something bright – I can’t find the right word – even when she struggled for breath.

“I hope so too.” I said, smoothing my hand over her shoulder and sending the most fervent prayer I’ve offered recently.

Someone walked by while I was collecting data, pausing to ask how it was going. I deal with sicker patients than most of my colleagues, so they’re curious with what I’m able to obtain.

“Quite well.” I said. “Better than I hoped, actually. She really wanted to participate – she thought it was important to do research and wanted to be a part of it. So headaches or transport problems or afternoon appointments weren’t going to stop her. I would have called it off at any point and must have told her 20 times that if it was uncomfortable at all, we’d stop. But she’s doing beautifully.”

“I pay grad students for some of my stuff.” My colleague reported, bemused.

“I know. These patients are stronger than most people. I don’t really understand it, but I’ve found it to be true with those I’ve met. It’s amazing.”

After making sure she was settled and comfortable in her room, I thanked my patient with all sincerity.

“Hi.” I said when I saw her family heading toward her as I was departing.

“Did she do OK?” Someone asked and I nodded enthusiastically, juggling the files with which I arrived.

“Perfect. She’s amazing.”

“We know.” They smiled and moved past me toward her again.

I’m blessed to know that too. To be able to pray for such fantastic people, to hopefully take some steps that will improve the hours they spend at the hospital. It’s daunting and tiring, but it’s also awe-inspiring. It seemed important to document such an event.


joy said...

What a lovely post. I'm glad you manage the study she is part of, you're doing a great job! :)

Locks said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Amelie said...

You're doing a very important job, and as it seems in a very kind way.
I think we don't know how strong we can be until we have to. Unfortunately, this mostly involves terrible situations... but don't think you can't be strong.

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