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I Remember You

By Birdstrike M.D.

 

I walk out of the patient room.  My eyes stare at the computer screen.  I’m behind, way behind.  I roll my head on my neck.  My neck feels tense, and I have a headache.  It’s been a long week.  I need a vacation.  Hurry up, click-click-click this computer, I think to myself.  Dammit, is this EMR really freezing up again?

I look up.  A man walks out of a patient room across the hall.  Our eyes lock.  I quickly look away.  Ouch, my neck.   There are patients waiting. I need to get moving, or I’ll never get out of here, I think to myself.  I put my head down and turn to walk away.

“Doctor.  Doctor.  Are you Doctor Bird?” he calls to me with urgency.

Crap, I think to myself.  I’m never going to get caught up.  He does look familiar.  I hope he’s not mad at me.  Who is this man?  He probably wants to sue me, or maybe he’s angry I didn’t prescribe him those pills he wanted.  Man, my neck.

“Yes?” I answer, hesitantly.

“Did you work at —– —– Medical Center about 10 years ago?” he asks.

He looks so, so familiar, but I can’t place him.

“You won’t remember me, but you took care of my son,” he says, with a faint, but warming smile. Right then, it hits me, like a ton of bricks.

“My son had cancer,” he says.

“Brain cancer,” I answer, and right then my mind goes back 10 years at warp speed, back to room 10, during a chaotic shift at my first job out of residency.  I’m looking at a 12-yr-old boy laying in bed.  His eyes are sunken and gaunt, skin pale, hair blond. He’s dying of cancer and all treatments have failed.  I had never seen a child so sick, so ill appearing, yet still alive.  He looks like he’s in terrible pain.  There’s nothing left to do, but to try to make his last few days, hours and moments as painless as possible. He needs IV fluids, some pain and nausea medicine and needs to be made comfortable.  In a chair next to him is his father, dying inside.  My heart sinks.  “I remember you, and I remember him.  I even remember the room you were in.”

“He died shortly after that.  But I still remember you.  You really took the time to ease his suffering, if only for a short time.  That meant a lot to me.  Most of all, you seemed to actually care,” he says.

I felt a little dizzy.  I felt like I was having a flash-back of the PTSD sort; so vivid and real. I remember the chaos of the shift.  Walking down the far hallway, walking in the room and closing the door.  As the door closed behind me, the noisy chaos behind disappeared, and it was stark quiet.  I remember feeling the heart-wrenching sadness of this man sitting next to his dying son, so helpless.  I felt equally helpless.  I remember thinking, I don’t care how many patients are waiting.  I don’t care how long the wait is, or what chaos is swirling outside that door.  I need to pause and try to at least listen, if only for a short time.  I need to at least acknowledge what this boy, his father and family are going through.  I need to try to find some way, no matter how small, to make things a little better, or a little less painful for both of them, if I can.  At the very least, I need to let them know that despite the impersonal chaos swirling outside the door, that someone appreciates the tragedy, the gravity, and the heartbreak they’re going through.  Someday, I’ll have children, I think to myself. Someday this could be my child, or my family member.  Someday this could be me.

“I had the perfect little family,” he says.  “Then my son died.  Shortly after that, my other son went off to college.  My wife and I were ’empty nesters.’  It was all too much for her.  Then she left me,” he said with a distant sadness, as if the scars ran deep, but were distant and faded enough that he now was able to cope.  “And then it was all gone.”  He somehow manages a smile.

“Wow.  I’m so sorry,” I say, mostly at a loss for words, having suddenly been pulled out of my mundane day, 10 years back, to an interaction that was very brief, that I had thought I had forgotten.

He smiles again.  “I don’t want to keep you any longer.  It looks like you’re having a busy day.  Again, I just wanted to tell you I remembered you.  You were very nice that day.  And thanks,” he says, as he turns and walks away.

“Thank you,” I say, truly touched, and half-choking out the words myself.  I turn and walk away.  I put the computer down.  I sit down.  I take a deep breath. Somehow, I think to myself, somehow, I had made a difference.  There was no life saved that day, no heart restarted.  There was no great diagnosis or adrenaline-inducing procedure to be done.  But despite all the frustrations, long days, stresses, and defeats, somehow I feel a little bit like George Bailey from the movie, “It’s A Wonderful Life,” and that an angel-like being had come to tell the faint vestige of the idealistic pre-med hopeful that still remained in me, “Keep up the good work.  You’re making much more of a difference than you’ll ever know.  Job well done.”

My eyes lock back down on to the computer screen to see who my next patient is going to be.  I need to get back to work, as I’m falling farther behind.  For a moment, my neck feels slightly better and my headache is gone.  I look at the clock.  My day is almost done.

 

 

 

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This author does not divulge protected patient information or information from real life court cases. Any post that appears to resemble a real patient, real person, real co-workers or trial can only be by coincidence. This author does not post, has not posted and will not post factual identifying information about real patients. To the extent that any post is based on the real life experiences of the author, names, dates, ages, sexes, locations, diagnoses, and all other factual information are routinely changed to the extent that they are fictional, and certainly HIPAA compliant. Artistic license can and will be used liberally as needed. If you want boring scientific cases presentations, read a peer reviewed journal. Any opinions expressed here are of the author alone and not those of Dr. WhiteCoat, my employer or any of the hospitals with which I am affiliated.

 

6 comments

  1. [I have been unable to post a comment–one last attempt.]

    Wow.

  2. Beautiful story. I will share with residents. Encounters like these, in days like that, are what keeps us going!

  3. This made me cry…in the last 26 years, I have known three people to pass from brain cancers…Shirley was 54. Dave, my bestie from childhood was 45, and Nina was just 17. Bertnerr is 22 and it’s been a year…she had surgery and is doing chemo. My neuro BIL says that it could change to a GB, that it isn’t now, because they didn’t get it all…Sigh. Kindness is always free and you must be a great doc!

  4. From other stories you’ve shared, no question with this one added -you are an exceptional Doctor and must be a pretty amazing person as well. Believe it or not because of you and your written words my hardened heart because of a medical tragedy is starting to soften. I told myself I’m not reading this Doctors stories anymore, all he does is cause me not to want to be angry or want to hate anymore. And I felt like to survive my loss I need to hate them all for the rest of my life, until I take my last breath. The only thing positive that came from our experience for me was the extreme importance of the feeling and word SORRY. How owning it and saying can make or break another persons life. One wouldn’t think just how powerful five little letters put together can make, huh? My gut feeling says you do! I don’t want to read your stories I don’t want you to make me feel better about anything, if you believe in God like I do, you, your stories are meant for me and I know it… Thanks I guess for just being you and sharing that…

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