Thursday, June 25, 2009

The retired physician

I was in Wal-Mart the other day, when I saw a curious, elderly gentleman of East Indian descent looking at me. I smiled back. He asked me whether I worked at the Clinic and I said yes.

We started talking.

He had joined the clinic in 1967 and specialized as an anesthesiologist in doing cases in pediatrics and cardiothoracic surgery. Before long, he was reminiscing and talking about old cases. His wife spied us from across a few aisles and came up. She introduced herself.

It became clear that there was some element of senile dementia. From his wife's 'take-charge' attitude (she locked arms with him and began to lead him out where apparently, her sister had the car loaded with their purchases and waiting), it seemed like she was the primary caregiver. As she led/almost pushed him along, I could see the misty look in his eyes, as he was being led off almost mid-sentence....

Curious thing. We'll all get old and senile dementia increases with age. From the stories I heard, this was a successfull and trailblazing anesthesiologist with many 'firsts' in his career. Now he was a retiree who needed looking after.

This reminded me of a more tragic case: I was doing an emergency room rotation that month when the code pager went off early that morning. I ran behind the ER doc as we came to the ward floor. The patient was a retired physician who had come in for an elective prostrate procedure. In the early hours of the morning, his heart had stopped and when the nurses' aide came in to do vitals at about 6 am, he was pulseless with no respirations. We ran the code for about 30 minutes when it became increasingly clear that this frail but hitherto functioning individual was not coming back.

As the ER doc called his wife to give her the bad news, I reflected on the situation. I imagined that this physician had probably done CPR, and ran codes on others before, perhaps even some physicians. Here he was on the other end of that scenario, for the final time. A life spent in medicine and ended in a medical scenario.

As physicians, growing old, becoming senile, being on the receiving end of emergency medical care -- all this seems scary. And yet, it is our future.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Graduation week

Every residency has a graduation day. Ours is called Residents & Fellows Recognition Evening. It was the 32nd one in the history of the Marshfield Clinic and Saint Joseph's Hospital. It was heald on Friday, June 12, 2009.

To attend this historic landmark event in the life of their loved one, my mother, brother, his wife and son came all the way from Panama. I was excited to have them. I took a week of vacation from June 6 to June 14 to host them here. We spent 5 days in Chicago and 2 in Marshfield. I guess, knowing how small Marshfield is, I thought they would enjoy Chicago more. It was a special time of togetherness, laughter, food and fun.

On June 11, my program director hosted a barbeque at his house in my honor. I was so embarrassed by the attention. Nevertheless, my family were touched by the honor. I received a Chief Resident award from him. My mother wept with joy and feeling. While I am embarrassed by attention and awards, I could not help but feel grateful for the recognition if it brought joy to mother's heart.

I truly believe that all our achievements are not ours alone. As one scientist said, we stand on the shoulders of giants. My family has supported me with much sacrifice and I am indebted to them.

A few weeks earlier, my bacteriophage research won me the Nikolai Award for the best Resident Research of the year.

At the 'graduation' evening, we had a great time. I was touched to see so many of our interns show up to support us on this evening. Belonging to the Med-Peds program, mine was the first name announced in the graduation. I picked up a white envelope to applause and returned to our table. I smiled when I saw what was inside: a red sheet of paper with "You may pick up your certification of completion on the last day of your residency" written on it. The ceremony is over, now get back to work :-)

The last event of the evening was an award given by the transitional year residents to a resident who has contributed the most to their medical education. I was pleasantly and genuinely surprised to win this award. I did not expect it, especially after all the glowing things that the resident said before she announced the winner's name. My family was once again proud and me embarrassed.

I am honestly happy that all the ceremony is over and I can get back to the work I enjoy so much in some measure of anonymity. In truth, when people are sick and hurting, awards seem a little crass. My 'award' is the saving of my patients. I pray for that award daily.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Then and Now...

It's June, my final month of residency! Last night was my 4th last call of residency (not that I'm counting or anything...). Things have changed so much since my intern year: I used to have butterflies in my stomach on call nights -- anxious and afraid of what might come up and whether I'd be able to handle it. I was 'afraid' of admissions and codes. Like others on the floor in wards (nurses, aides, unit clerks) I would say "Don't say the 'Q' word (quiet) because we woouldn't want to 'jinx' it and get a lot of admissions, codes or pts in crisis. Now though, I look forward to call night to see what we'll get. I'm not afraid or anxious, although I maintain a healthy respect for the unknown in medicine.

At 3 am I got a call from a 3rd year resident who was on call in the CCU (Critical Care Unit). He had admitted an 80-something year old with severe hypotension. The patient was already on pressors through a peripheral IV and needed a central line. He wondered if I could come and assist. Sleep evaporated and I walked over with a bounce in my step. I was on call for Pediatrics but nothing was happening, so I looked forward to actually doing something that night.

During the first attempt at placing the line, the patient became unresponsive. We called a code, did chest compressions and got him back. The line was placed and an hour later I was back in Peds. In my intern days, this would have pumped me with adrenalin. Not so much last night. It was 'fun'. I know I need to guard against becoming complacent or over-confident. No one knows everything and these are literally life and death situations. But I feel ready for the next step in medicine. I am done with my training at the end of this month and looking forward to the future.