By Daniel Bradke, MSIV
I have been an active participant in life. I've had a keen fascination with learning, traveling, and exploring the world. I have hiked some of the tallest peaks, captured nature's wildest beauty through the lens of my camera and witnessed some truly amazing things. When I was 21, I graduated from a university program and married my best friend who became my husband of 60 years. But since that time he has passed. We didn't have any children. I have been weathered by my experiences, both good and bad. My body has grown old.
It is snowing here in New York City. I can see the thick snowflakes falling against the streetlights as I lay awake in this hospital bed to which I have been confined. I desperately wish I could be outside with everyone else. They seem to be having so much fun right now. I love the winter and I love to sled and ski. I would give anything to break free of this body that has trapped me and holds me captive to my own thoughts.
A nurse comes in to give me my medication. She's pretty and reminds me of my best friend Sarah, who passed away three years ago. She dismisses my attempt to make eye contact with her and seems uninterested in even knowing my name. In the morning I am woken at 6 am; my body washed, my clothing changed. Now groups of students in their white coats hover around me. They take instructions from a man whose coat reads, "Attending Physician." He reaches over me, feels my arms and legs, exposes my abdomen, and listens to my chest. He treats me as if I am a specimen under a microscope. I have no idea what anyone says and they are gone as soon as they came - without any form of introduction or even a goodbye.
The next day it's a different group of students. But this time one young man stays behind to introduce himself. His name is Michael and he is a third year medical student. He says he'll be coming around to see how I am doing on a daily basis. And every day he comes. He knows my name. He doesn't just listen to the sounds of my heart and lungs; he listens to my story. I tell him about my life. Michael takes great interest in what I have to say and comes in to see me more frequently, bringing me hot tea or something to read. I feel less alone.
This week I've been visited more frequently by the white coats, nurses and staff. They come in, perform their duty and leave. Most of the time I lie in bed listening to the monitor, the rhythm of my heart.
The last time I checked, it was 8 o'clock in the evening. I lay here numb to all the white coats around me. I look to my right and I see Michael. He is holding my hand and comforting me in a time when I feel paralyzed and lifeless. He leans in and tells me that my heart is not working the way it should. He says, " The doctors are doing everything they can to get your heart working again, and I'll be right here next to you. I will try to make you as comfortable as I can."
The next thing I know I am looking down on myself from the foot of my bed. I see Michael still holding my hand and whispering something into my ear; I can see the doctors pushing violently on my chest in an effort to revive me. No success. After ten minutes my body lies there, lifeless and cold. A once-young woman that enjoyed a lifetime of happiness has now passed away in a foreign place where only one person cared to know her. I watch as everyone clears the room, but Michael stays there with a tear in his eye. He looks at my body as if I will spring back to life, but I just lay there, eyes closed. I have left my old, failing body behind. Michael begins to cry. I wish I could tell him how much it meant to have someone with me during my final days, someone who took the time to get to know me and to listen to my story.
Medical students play a critical role as members of the healthcare team. In being an active listener, the student is able to engage the patient and develop stronger bonds and may learn things that a patient has never told anyone before. It is encouraged that you make this connection with your patients now so you deliver better care as a practitioner in the future. I hope the message of this story touches you. From one 3rd-year medical student to the next, I wish you great success in your pursuit of knowledge and in your development as a physician.