The possibilities of fourth year and beyond are constantly on my mind. I’ve been asking almost everyone for opinions and advice, and also staying later in the hospital so I can absorb as much as I can. On top of that, there’s the added pressure of oral exams this week and the surgery shelf next week. Even the 1 hour lost from daylight savings time caused a slight panic this morning.
Around 2pm today, I decided to take a break from studying and look up the surgeries for tomorrow as well as a few patients I’ve been following on the service. To my dismay, one of them passed away yesterday evening. I remember discussing her case with the resident yesterday and he had been hopeful that she would pull through.
When I entered her name in the system, an pop-up appeared that said I would be entering the chart of a deceased patient. My heart sank. I quickly read through the last note and then sat there, frozen. To my surprise, my eyes welled up. I couldn’t reason through it or stop it. I wasn’t there for the death pronouncement; I wasn’t even in the hospital at all when it happened.
She had been on the service since the end of January and I saw her almost every day on rounds. Every morning she would smile at us, even when it was pitch black at 5AM. Despite her multiple procedures and pain, she stayed positive and always thanked us for taking care of her. One day, I was running up and down different floors to get materials to change her wound vac. I showed up slightly out of breath and apologized to my resident for taking so long. To my surprise, the patient asked if I was alright and even apologized for inconveniencing me! From that day, she came to know me as the medical student with the bright red sneakers. She would joke to the attendings and residents that they could find me anywhere, they just had to look for the flash of red. Whenever I would pop in to check on her, she reminded me to take good care of myself because she would need me as her doctor one day.
She wasn’t my first patient death, but she was the first patient who died that I had connected with. Instead of scribbling down vitals and lab values, I understood the meanings behind her labs and why we decided to order another scan. She became more than a patient to get numbers on, she was someone whose care I was actively involved in. With her, I gained a human connection.
After realizing all of this, the stress of the upcoming year seems less important. I’ve been so worried about the future and administrative things that I lost track of why I started all of this. There are plenty of ways to help people both in and outside of medicine, but one of the main reasons I chose this field was the chance to form relationships with my patients (amongst many other things, of course!). I am grateful for the reminder and inspiration through my time with her.
When we begin rounds tomorrow morning, she won’t be on the list. But she’ll forever be remembered as the patient who taught me about myself and what is really important to me in medicine.