Yes, I realize that I am courting the obvious there, but I thought we needed to restate where we stand on the issue. Sure there are some occasions, some deaths, where the cessation of breathing is cause for celebration and I would not try to argue that.
For the most part, though, people who die don’t want to die.
Again, blindingly obvious, but stick with me. I do have a purpose to this.
See, we as civilians only have to deal with death on a fairly irregular basis. It’s not like we see it every day as part of our job. Because we, as civilians, are not doctors.
Shara Yurkiewicz is a fourth-year medical student at Harvard Medical School where she’s learning what it takes to become a physician. She’s taking classes about anatomy, about chemistry, about diagnosis of disease and all of that.
However, it’s what she’s going to learn outside of the classroom that will determine how good of a doctor she becomes. My wife, known to many as She Who Must Be Our Best Chance, also is a doctor. She’s an OB/GYN and she’s one of the best doctors I’ve ever met. Not only is she a dedicated physician, who continues her medical education every day, but she’s also got a tremendous stirrup-side manner. She connects with her patients as people, as sometimes friends.
And patients appreciate that. She didn’t learn that in a classroom, but it’s a big part of why she’s such a great doctor. Shara Yurkiewicz has plenty of time to work on her bedside manner, but, right now, she’s still learning some powerful lessons.
Thankfully, she shares a lot of those lessons with readers of her Scientific American blog “This May Hurt A Bit,” which follows her trials and tribulations as a medical student.
In a recent column, Ms. Yrukiewicz transcribes a conversation she had with a patient following his hip-fracture repair. It offers we civilians a gripping view inside the real-world learning medical students must go through to become effective doctors.
She thanks the patient for allowing her, a medical student, to watch as the surgeons worked to fix his hip. It’s a relatively bland conversation and I began to wonder why it was in her blog. Until we neared the middle and things — through no one’s fault — began to go downhill.
Very badly downhill.
I watched as they kept your eyes shut and handled your body just as gently as they had a few hours ago.
I listened to the final zip of the body bag. I don’t know who had the time to switch off the radio, but I’m glad they did.
I listened as the nurse asked God to rest your soul.
I watched you leave in a different kind of bed, to a different place. I’m not sure where.
You can learn a lot from watching. Thank you for letting me watch.
We fixed your hip, sir.
The operation was a success, but the patient died. It’s not an oxymoron, but a notice that physicians must understand the different values for success.
To become a good doctor, medical students need to understand that patients are not simply a presentation of diseases and symptoms. They are people, with lives and loves and desires all their own.
What Ms. Yrukiewicz doesn’t mention in her post is the next most important lesson a good doctor must learn: How to learn everything you can about what happened so it doesn’t happen again and then move on to the next patient, fully confident that the surgery will be a success and the patient will survive.
Her blog provides an interesting look into the world of student physicians. I’d recommend you dudes and dudettes go and give it a read. It’s always interesting to learn what the person on the other side of the white lab coat is thinking.
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