"You care too much to be a doctor," he said. Fighting back my shock and anger, I found it odd that this statement was coming from a guy that only a few days before had broken my heart. "It is my job to care. To care about my patients. Their families. I wouldn't be a good doctor if i didn't care," i told him.
So i have been accused of caring too much and i am not going to take the time to write and argue that i don't.....but now you get to read a story......
As a 1st year pulmonary fellow, a majority of our first year is spent in the Intensive Care Unit. There are many ICUs at MUSC so we were able to rotate through different ones- SICU (Surgery), MICU (Medical), MSICU (Medical/Surgery), NSICU (Neurosurgery)- each ones had specific patients assigned to the ICU and each one came with their own set of challenges. As a fellow we oversee the residents, interns and medical students and basically sit at the side of our attending and listen/learn so that in a few short years, we can go out and run our own ICUs.
As a 1st year, I spent the month of November 2010 in the MSICU at the Ashley River Tower. It was a beautiful glass building (that is said to be sinking ever so slowly and in 100 years the 1st floor will be underground) that houses the sickest of the sick. Patients with heart problems. Cancer patients. Liver patients. I was warned, "you better up your antidepressant before you start the MSICU." And it was true. The patients there are so sick. There are so many deaths and not many saves. It is defeating.
I remember when this patient got admitted to the ICU. He came down from a regular hospital bed and behind the nurses pushing the bed was the attending, the fellow, the nurse practitioner and oh, about three other nurses. That was not normal....something was up. Something was different......most patients don't get this treatment. "Take care of him," barked the attending, who then walked away to find my attending and talk. The NP looked at me and said "This guy is special. We love him....and....his wife is a nurse. You are going to love her." I was wide eyed and stunned into submission. This man was surrounded by so much love and my goal was to fix him. No sweat i thought. This is the ICU. We fix people.
At first, i was hopeful. And as antibiotics were added and procedures were done, he still seemed upbeat, and even managed to tease me some. And his family was there all the time. He was never alone and i loved watching their interactions. My daughter was dropped off at my work after school one day and she sat in the waiting room lobby of the ICU waiting for me, reading a book. His family always gathered in that waiting room. Chatting, reading, sleeping. Someone in his family was having a birthday and they offered her some cake that they were sharing. She refused and went back to reading but when i came out to get her, the family put two and two together and made a huge deal that she was MY daughter, telling me how wonderful and polite she was. I beamed with pride.
As the days went by my hope started to dwindle. I was crushed each time i had to report another setback to his family. Intubation. Dialysis. More infections. Through tears i told his wife that i wished our husbands could change places. That the love that i see between them was so amazingly wonderful, special, and their bond was so strong. I was lacking that in my relationship- there was too much alcohol and unkind words- so i told her i would rather my husband die than her husband. After that talk, i knew my marriage was over. And i found it so unfair that this couple was suffering being apart by an illness that strikes at random and mercilessly takes down its victims.
Then one day they decided he needed to be comfortable. That he had fought a good fight, and maybe even harder than for his country. His last day on earth was a blur for me....i remember him being peaceful, his wife sitting on the bed and telling him that she loved him, the nurse practitioner standing beside me silently crying, and tears just streaming down my face. I couldn't even pay my respects to his family as duty called and i had to deal with another patient who was also terminal.
I didn't go to his memorial service like i had wanted to. I never got to say my goodbye until last year when i made a trip to DC and left a meeting early to visit him at Arlington National Cemetery. And at that time i sat down and just talked to him- told him about my life and what i remembered about him and his family. And that he was missed so much.
Today Taylor and i talked about him. And she goes "oh, his family was so nice!" It made me smile. I still tear up talking about him and because of his story, i get accused of "caring too much." And when i walk by the ICU waiting room, all i ever see is his family sitting there. It is haunting, but in a comforting way.
Today, there are so many people celebrating his life. I wanted to share my story of him.