They say you never forget your first patient. They’re right.
When you first start your medical school clinical rotations, you’re given that very first patient who’s "yours". Really all that means if that you check up on the person, record their labs, and write the note, while the residents do the important stuff. But still, that patient is "yours". I started out with trauma surgery, so my first patient was a man who had been backed over by a truck at work. As a result, he had a huge chunk ripped out of the side of his thigh – an extremely nasty and painful wound that was going to take a long time to heal. When we cut ourselves, our skin just closes back together, but when you’ve had a huge chunk torn out, the body isn’t made to close that wound. My patient was in the hospital when I got there and was still there when I left, and through that time he went to the operating room a good four or five times. Throughout this process, I ended up getting to know him pretty well and we developed a bond.
The one thing that will always stick out in my mind about this patient is the morning I went into his room and found him lying in the bed, in tears. Apparently he hadn’t gotten his pain medication all night and had been trying to call out to the nurses the entire time to no avail. I was the first person who had come in to his room to check on him. As he lied there crying, he kept repeating over and over "I can’t do this any more." "God, why did you do this to me?" "God take me home." It was absolutely heartbreaking to see as I could only imagine the pain and suffering he’d been experiencing through the night. I tried to comfort him using the usual "It will be ok", "You can do this" type of tactics, but he was inconsolable. Finally, I knew that there was only one thing to do.
When you go to the hospital, they always put your religion on your information sheet. Having seen it in my patient’s chart, I knew we both attended the same type of church. As my patient was lying there in tears, I took his hand and began to pray with him, that God would give him the strength to see him through, that he could learn to lean on God even when he felt he couldn’t go one more step. As we prayed together, I saw an amazing peace come over my patient, and by the time I finished, he had fallen asleep.
I don’t know your background or where you’re coming from. This whole story might have seemed incredibly cheesy to you. But as doctors, I feel it’s our responsibility to not just take care of our patient’s disease, but to take care of the person with the disease. Being able to have that type of impact on my very first patient, when I knew less about medicine than I will ever know, was a real inspiration to me as I continued on in pursuit of my degree. It proved to me that "making a difference" wasn’t just a lofty idea, but something that I could actually carry out each day as I interacted with my patients. They always say that you never forget your first patient, and I know that I’ll always remember the lesson that my first patient taught me. I plan on keeping it with me through every patient encounter I have from that moment on. Hopefully when I’ve seen my very last patient that message will still ring true in me, and I can look back on the man in the hospital bed and all the lives in between that I’ve touched as a result of him.