Friday, March 30, 2012
Much Ado About Nothing
While Mrs. S fought a brave fight, she now was being challenged by a disease that I knew I couldn’t fix. She was going blind. As her vision worsened, her ability to take care of herself faltered. We had long talks about this. It troubled me, as a physician, because I knew there was no recourse. She had gone to 6 different ophthalmologists in the last 6 months and all said the same thing.
I reviewed my notes on Mrs. S. My assessment and plan looked something like this:
1)cad/chf: stable on current lasix dose, chest pain free
2)atrial fibrillation: INR stable, re check in one month
3)spinal stenosis: stable
4)visual loss: follow up with ophthalmology
I was tortured by how little I could do for her. As I said goodbye, I suggested that she didn't need to return for 3 months, her medical issues were stable. She gave a weak smile.
How about next month?
As a new medical student I experienced my first care giver relationship. I volunteered for hospice and was given the name of an elderly gentleman dying of prostate cancer. His condo was close to mine, and I would walk over once a week to spend time with him. I did little things like cleaned around the house or occasionally wound run to the grocery store. Often, we would pass the hours just talking.
I call this my first care giver experience although many would argue that I wasn’t really delivering any medical care. I, in fact believe, that it is the exact opposite. As a first year medical student, I didn’t know much about medicine. It was before my mind was clouded by diagnosis and symptoms, drugs and pathophysiology. My lack of medical knowledge allowed me to get to the core of what this gentleman needed: An attentive listener, someone to say they were sorry for his condition, someone to be there.
As I moved along in my medical education I forgot the art of “just being there”. As a resident and young attending, I was always too busy making diagnosis, prescribing medications, and planning the next step. But every now and then I would get caught in a situation where I no longer had anything left to do. Where all the appropriate actions had been taken and yet the patient still wasn’t getting better. These situations used to bother me. As I get older they do so much less.
As with my hospice patient I knew there was very little I could do for Mrs. S. She would eventually lose her sight completely. But I started to go back to my premedical way of thinking and take a more optimistic look. I could continue to be there for Mrs. S. I could hold her hand and say I'm sorry that she is going through this. I could keep my door open and let her know that no matter what happens, I would support her. I would be in her corner if she needed a hand.
I know, sounds like alot of nothing. But sometimes “doing nothing” is some of the best medical care I give!
Posted by Jordan Grumet at 5:47 AM