Thoughts on being a doctor

I love being a doctor.  During my medical training, however, I didn’t know I was going to feel that way.  I didn’t really love being a medical student and I hated being a resident.  But I also still remember the first time I felt that love of doctoring.  I was an intern in my first month out of medical school, I was in the ICU, and I got that dreaded call at 2 in the morning. The patient in room 6 who was getting TPA (a powerful clot busting medication given to people having strokes) was bleeding into his brain.  He was dying.  We stopped the medication. There was nothing more we could do.  The nurse asked me to call his wife and let her know. 

I had never met this woman.  I still to this day have no idea what she looks like.  I picked up the phone and dialed the number.  It was clear she’d been sound asleep when the phone rang and I tried to give her a moment to wake up.  How do you tell someone at 2:00 a.m. that someone they love is dying from the treatment that was supposed to make them better?  I didn’t know how to do it, but I tried to do my best.  There was a pause between when I finished talking and she stopped crying long enough to respond where I remember feeling like my chest was imploding.  I’d done it all wrong.  I wasn’t cut out for this job after all.  Then she said “Thank you.  Thank you for taking care of my husband and for being there with him.”  She couldn’t drive at night, but she didn’t want him to suffer.  She asked if I’d be willing to stay with him while he died and to please tell him she loved him.  She knew this was a risk of the treatment and she appreciated all we’d done.

I have tears in my eyes right now after just writing that.  It was over 10 years ago and, when I think about that woman’s words and the hours that followed as I sat in the ICU with nurses I barely knew who would one day be great friends, I still feel overwhelming gratitude.  There’s nothing I love more than being able to be there with my patients and their families.  Being a doctor is an all-access pass into the vulnerability of humanity.  Some days I walk back to my car and I can honestly say that I saved someone’s life.  Other days I can just take a deep breath and remind myself that I did my best.