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Saturday, June 27, 2009

Patients: for a change...

I am happy to report that the long awaited feelings of gratification, satisfaction, and sweet fulfillment have come through during these two past weeks of hospital clerkship (the first two weeks in Med III). This is it. What I have been waiting for since I graduated from high school, and even a few years before that, if you will deem meaningful the idealism of a foolish teenager and his noble aspirations to save the world one patient at a time. This quest, this mission, now surely tarnished by disillusionment and eroded by its relentless and savage conflict with the grit of reality, this enthusiasm, and idealism, or what's left of them, is what I am trying to salvage at this time in my life and career. The fact is, I can proudly say that at last, at long last, I have the power to do something about it. I, your dedicated and enthusiastic medical student, now have enough to work with to impact people's lives, no matter how limited that impact may be. Flashback 3 weeks ago: I was just another student in a classroom counting the seconds before it was time to head back home or to the pub for a few drinks. Now, for a fast change, things are different. Let me tell you the story of a patient who made me realize that.

N. is a sweet old lady patient I was following up. She was one sick lady, with heart problems, kidney problems, and diabetes. One of the many, many long term complications of diabetes is peripheral vascular disease. simply put, this means that diabetics have problems in their blood circulation and as a result, there is impaired blood supply to the lower extremities. Impaired blood flow means impaired oxygenation, impaired eventual wound healing, and impaired immunity in the affected area. This is why you see 'informed' diabetics and think that they're anal about foot hygiene. It's simply because they've been informed that even the smallest abrasion or cut to the skin of their feet could result in devastatingly painful ulcerations and invasive infections that could ultimately warrant the amputation of a toe, or even the entire foot or leg in severe cases. What makes it worse is Diabetic Neuropathy, another complication of Diabetes that impairs sensation in the lower extremities, meaning that any wound, abrasion, or developing infection in a hidden area could go undiscovered for months, without the patient feeling so much as a tingle. Read more about The Diabetic Foot and Diabetic Foot Care.

N. had had diabetes for many years, and after an ulcer between her toes failed to heal and got infected, she lost her little toe, which was amputated to prevent the infection from spreading further up her leg with dire consequences. The first time I examined N., she immediately reminded me of my grandmother (Read); an exceedingly sweet, but obviously worried old lady, more open to suggestion than anyone could imagine. Even long years of fighting with chronic disease, life saving operations, and medications, along with a roughed up body both inside and out, had failed to embitter this inspiring character. The best of it all is that all she had to do was smile.

After this introduction it's time I got back to the point I was trying to make. People like N., with limited resources, bad or no insurance, are usually treated and let go as soon as possible. This is the sad reality of health care today, and is something that I'll be sure to write about when time and inspiration permit. The bottom line is that after a successful operation, N. was about to be sent home with her foot well on its way to a full recovery. Sadly, no one really took the time to sit down with N. for a few minutes and explain to her what steps needed to be taken to avoid another visit to the operating room. My group and I (Myself, M, and G.) felt that we could do it. Why not? It is now our duty to care for our patients, examine them, and help in their treatment and convalescence. Why would we not be responsible of raising some awareness and help them also by preventive measures? We went to N.'s room and gave her a talk with a few crucial instructions on how to care for her feet. And yes, this is the essence of what I've been rambling about for the past 3,000 words or so. We did that, and I like to think that we DID make a difference in N's life. Only time will tell, but things are looking up.

M. told me a similar story about one of her patients. She felt the same as I did, but the feeling is a bit new to us. It's something that, deep down, you know is right and that you are 100% sure that you're doing the right thing, but that still feels awkward, for some reason, and you're always worried that it's not your place. Well, I think it is. And I'm sure that if we don't do it, no one will. If we somehow lose this enthusiasm, this 'flame' that sadly has burned itself out in all but the newest blood in the health care system, we can be sure that no one, especially not the hardened veterans with their cynicism, will kindle it back to life. And it is the patients that will ultimately pay the price. Who else?

I said goodbye to N. with a few last minute instructions and reminders, and she told me how grateful she was, and the last words she said before I left will stay with me for a long time.

"Ra7 a3mel metel ma eltelle ya 7akim!"(I will do exactly what you told me to, Doctor!) - said a proud and emotional N. ...


poshlemon said...

I guess there is nothing that beats that look of gratefulness in the eyes of a patient. It must have felt great to be called 'doctor' ;)

Le colleague said...

It's very rewarding... and on many levels. It's worth everything we had to put up with to get here. Everything.
Again with the being called doctor thing lol. Yeah it's cool. :)

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