Monday, June 29, 2009

The art of medicine

I've wanted to be a doctor since before I can remember. It's just been something I've felt an overwhelming calling to do and, for the seemingly hundreds of applications over the years asking me why, I've waxed eloquently about healing and helping the sick and dying. But honestly, until tonight, I never really could put my finger on what it was the drew me so inexplicably to the art of medicine.

I got a call tonight to come down to the emergency department for "an old man who is a No Code who arrived after getting CPR three times at the nursing home. The family is here and I need your help with them." I walk into (let's call him) John's room expecting to see a dead man and a grieving family only to find a pleasantly demented non-dead man on a stretcher talking to his daughter. The family was very clearly and understandably shaken and as I walked into the room, they all looked directly at me for guidance.

That is why I went into medicine.

There is only one certainty in life and that is that we all will die. It's just a matter of timing. Some of us are likely closer to it than others but in the end, we'll all have to face it. I've seen it done poorly over and over and over again. But, thanks to my God given abilities, I've also seen it and even helped it be done well. With the vast arsenal that we have now in modern medicine, there is just no reason for death to be anything other than peaceful, painless, and dignified.

I had the luxury of spending a long time with John's family tonight and the majority of it was spent helping his youngest daughter come to terms with her father's No Code status. She felt like the fact that we were talking about his death in front of him was "cutting holes into his soul." It took time explaining that simply by the family gathering to have such an open and honest conversation directed at honoring John's goals and wishes, they were actually pouring out their love all over him. But, by the end of the conversation, she said to me, "Thank you. I never thought about it like that." And then, in the middle of the cold bustling ED, on top of my germ-filled white coat and without any warning, she hugged me.

That is why I went into medicine. To be the Shepherd. To hold the hand. To open my magical black bag and pull out sanity and common sense and pain relief and humor and reality and hope and understanding and knowledge and confidence and comfort. So much of what I do every day has nothing to do with healing and everything to do with buying people time and giving them the tools to come to terms with their own mortality.

Don't get me wrong, given the option I'd much rather deliver a baby than turn off the life support machine, but there is nobility in both and I am truly in awe that I have the opportunity to be, for all intents and purposes, a tour guide on this big adventure called life.

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