Yesterday my eyes watered a bit while I sat on the edge of my patient’s bed and told her I wasn’t going to be her doctor/medical student anymore. I felt terrible telling her this because she’d asked me on two separate occasions after meeting me whether I was going to be her doctor. And on both occasions I assured her that yes, I was going to be the medical student following her under Dr. So-and-So’s supervision. I saw it in her eyes: the abandonment, the confusion, and the fear of it happening all over again. I knew that look all too well, because I too have felt it before…the not wanting to trust someone until you’re: a) 100% sure they’re not going to leave your side, and b) you’re sure it’s not going to be a waste of time.
She’s a few years older than me and our lives couldn’t be any more different, and yet here I was establishing a decent relationship with her. I only had her with me for the last 3 days of my rotation, but for some reason she was one of those patients you just don’t forget.
My eyes watered, because I felt I was breaking the unspoken promise I had made to her when we met: that I wouldn’t leave her side. She took it in stride, then told me to sit on her bed (“I just changed the sheets!” she joked). She asked me to tell her mom, via phone-call, how she was doing at hospital. I said yes, and she couldn’t believe my response. After speaking to her mom she told me that the woman I spoke with wasn’t her real mom, and that her real mother didn’t care about her and didn’t even visit her the last time she was at hospital. And I told her “Sometimes our mothers aren’t the ones we’re born from…and there’s nothing wrong with that.”
She’s got a very stigmatized chronic illness and she’s rough around the edges. And I’m pretty sure that the next team that will be in charge of her care will not listen to her enough or have patience with her.
It was a rough goodbye for me. I’d never had such a rough goodbye with one of my patients before.
I remember back in 2011 when my first deep depression began, that I would doubt constantly whether medical school was the cause of my internal death. I didn’t know the answer to that question until recently.
The truth is, my career is one of the things that has kept me alive all this time. My patients are a distraction for me, a good one. They give me life lessons even if they don’t realize it and they support and challenge my long-held beliefs all at the same time.
This week has been rough on the depression-front. But that small interaction with my patient gave me the energy to keep going even if it’s just for a little while.