In the dark of the morning I got up today and slipped out of the house. Off to get my labs and then to head into another week of work. As I sat down to have my blood drawn I thought of the group of patients I would get to see today who at some point during the night also had their blood drawn. I thought back to all the nights in the hospital last year when I would try to sleep through the nurses rummaging around in the room trying to get supplies ready to draw my blood. I thought of how I understood that they were doing their job and that no matter how hard they tried to let me sleep it was just the nature of being in a hospital. I wondered how many of my patients today would be disgruntled with the early morning blood draw, how many would blame the nurses and how many would blame my partner or me for ordering the blood. I wondered how many of them, given my current rotation in the long term acute care setting, were just used to it and could sleep right through it.
I continued to think about them as my blood rapidly filled the vials I needed pulled out. I do a lot of pre reading on my patients so I have a reasonable idea of what is going on with them but I know in my heart I will never fully understand their situations no matter how hard I try. I know that because the situation goes both ways. I will explain to them that I am wearing a protective mask, gloves, and gown because my immune system is suppressed and try to move on to learn about them and reassure them this also protects them. I doubt maybe wrongly so that they will not be the least concerned about the fact that my labs are likely worse than their own. They have their own worries, so many of which I will not know about and not comprehend no matter how hard I try. The sad truth is that although I really want to help them, that I really want to know about what makes them tick, we will likely never see the world the same. Despite the fact that I have been a patient, that I continue to be a patient, that our worlds are drastically different.
I thought about this through out the day. I use it as a reminder to slow down, sit with each patient and listen, if only for a moment. At the end of the day though I can honestly say I tried but I don’t really ever know if my patients feel the same way. I know for a fact some of them won’t because I gave them tough news or I told them things they don’t want to hear. I often think of how I was so anxious to leave the hospital last year. I know my patients feel that way. But the sad truth is really that we don’t have much in common other than that. I think one part of my evolution through medicine, through being a patient is this understanding. What I learned I can try to pass on, but each of us has to learn on our own how to make life work for us. I try not to think of what I would have done if I were in one of their situations because my world view is different, as is all of ours. So when I sit at the end of the day and listen to my boys get ready for bed and think about the day it is a little frustrating. I don’t know of those two really learn from me either or if they just figure it out as they go.
The happy side of all this though is that we are capable of learning, of growing, of getting through tough situations, of seeing the world from a different view at some point. Even at these funny reflective moments of my day I can think about what is still possible, of what tomorrow might hold, of what we might accomplish. Yeah, sometimes I am frustrated that even with all my education, my personal knowledge of illness, my experiences that I can’t exact some specific change, but maybe I did encourage someone else to think of the possibilities. Or maybe they just realized it on their own. Either way, the sad truth is that I still believe that tomorrow I might do more. Realistically, maybe that isn’t so sad.
Head Up, Heart Strong. I need a cure.