Tonight, like every night, I sat in the wooden rocker in little Hadley’s room. I hugged her close to me and inhaled deeply. The smell of baby shampoo, the softness of her cheek against mine, the sound of my other kids giggling across the hall…
Today had been one of those days.
It started out much like any other. Early start, rushing to stay on time, schedule packed to the brim. But I am used to that…
What happened during my second patient encounter of the morning, I was NOT used to. This patient happened to be a very close friend of another patient of mine that had recently died after a short battle with cancer.
Today, I found myself confronted by this patient and another family friend about the quality of care that I had rendered to their close friend in the months leading up to her death.
I was, frankly, blown away. These ladies were both patients of mine themselves. Both absolute delights to have in my practice. And here they were, raking me over the coals.
After getting permission from the deceased patients daughter, I spoke to them over my lunch hour.
It was heart wrenching but the questions were legitamate. “Why wasn’t she diagnosed sooner? She had been so sick for so long. Couldn’t you have done something? “
The hardest part of the inquisition was that those very questions were ones that I had lay awake asking of myself.
In my brain, I know that I did the best I could for my patient. In my gut though, there was an empty pit. I remained calm and professional. I tried to avoid seeming defensive or angry. But the self doubt was winning.
What if they are right that I didn’t work fast enough or try hard enough or make enough calls on her behalf?
What if she suffered a minute more pain because I was too busy or too tired to notice something?
I had taken an oath to first do no harm. Somehow that seemed woefully inadequate today. It seems it should be do no harm, only do good, do it fast, do it completely. Make the diagnosis and make it right. Start the treatment and start it quickly. Cherish the life, respect the life, save the life.
I, for the first time in a very long time, felt not up to that task.
Then, as I looked across my desk at the tears streaming down these ladies faces, I realized something: They LOVED that friend of theirs. They CHERISHED her. The depth of their grief was a simple reflection of the depth of their love for her.
They weren’t attacking me, they were trying desperately to come to grips with a devastating loss.
Suddenly, I found myself wishing for friends just like that. When I die, will anyone outside of my family take up for me with that level of tenacity? I sure hope so.