You may not remember me, but you changed me

You may not remember me, but when I asked how you were, you said, “alive.”

A few weeks earlier you were afraid of going under anesthesia and not waking up. They said you’d do great; that this was routine; that we’d see you again soon. Then you coded on the table. I’ve never met someone who was grateful for life the way you expressed to me that day.

You may not remember me, but I sat by your bed and held your hand when you cried after your surgery. Not from the pain, but from loneliness. Your family was thousands of miles away. You pointed to the chair next to mine and said God was sitting there, and that He gave you strength to get through this. When you asked me where I find my own strength, I admit to you that I didn’t have a good answer.

You may not remember me, but you cast me away when I tried to interview you. “No medical students,” you said firmly. I spent the next few days learning about you from the other side of the door. I observed quietly as we spoke about you on rounds, wrote notes on you, and held multidisciplinary meetings devoted to figuring out the next step for you. When I entered your room for that two-minute interval, I hadn’t known you were dying. It was nobody’s fault. It was my fault. I’m sorry.

You may not remember me, but I was there on the best day of your life. I placed my hands around your baby’s head and helped wriggle her out of you at 3 AM after encouraging you to “push, keep pushing” for two hours. Your shades were open, and from the top floor of the hospital your brightly lit delivery room overlooked a sleeping Boston skyline. You created life as a city slumbered. As I lay your first child into your arms, it was as though nothing else in that room, in that city – or anywhere else – existed for you.

You may not remember me, but I was there on the worst day of your life. It was your 77th birthday. You had exploratory surgery to see if the mass was benign or malignant. It was malignant. It was also metastatic. In post-op I encouraged you to advance your diet so that maybe we could work our way up to a slice of birthday cake. You politely declined. What could I offer you that could mitigate what you had just heard? Please, let it be something. Yet I knew it was nothing.

You may not remember me, but you taught me abdominal anatomy. The surgeons let me guide the laparoscopic camera pushed into your belly, and I navigated the maze of tissues keeping you alive with a clarity I did not know I possessed. When it was over and you asked me what I saw, I told you only about the one structure we were looking for.

You may not remember me, but you were the happiest cancer patient I’ve ever met. You told your mama you liked the hospital. After all, here you were given pancakes for breakfast and had access to a room full of toys – when it wasn’t even your birthday! I wondered what of this you will remember once you grow past the age of three.

You may not remember me, but I was the one who told you we needed to replace the nasogastric tube you hated so much. When things had been going your way you would confide in me each morning. Your beliefs. Your hopes. Your worries. You trusted me for some reason, told me I was different. After the tube was in you relegated me to the ranks of those whose questions you answered with one word. How are you? Fine. Does anything hurt? Nope. I know you feel I betrayed you. But I couldn’t let your body suffer because I wanted you to like me. I wish you could understand.

You may not remember me. But you changed me. It was a privilege to be able to enter your life. Even if only in the moment.

Ilana Yurkiewicz is a medical student who blogs at Unofficial Prognosis.

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  • Richard Willner

    Wow. This was powerful. You will become an outstanding physician.

    Richard Willner
    The Center for Peer Review Justice.

  • Kaya5255

    I wish I could say that I was impressed, but I am not. I have experienced first-hand far too many horror stories involving students, medical, nursing, etc. As a result, I do not allow students of any kind to be involved in any aspect of my care. I have even gone so far as to deny them access to my medical records. Accomplishing that was an uphill battle with my PCP, but I was successful.

    • crnp2001

      I’m sorry for your experiences. You have every right to refuse students to be involved with your care. However…to comment as you did for her post is not appropriate, IMHO. She shows a depth and compassion as I do not often see with medical students…and hopefully this will continue to grow with her studies.

    • Kobukvolbane

      We accept your unexpressed appreciation for those who involve medical students in their care when they are comfortable doing so, for we know that without us, your PCP would not be as experienced.

      • Kaya5255

        I do not allow students of any type to be involved in any aspect of my care. I don’t utilize teaching facilities for just that reason…I don’t have to permit students near me.
        Unless there’s MD or DO after the name, I dismiss intruders.
        Don’t flatter yourself, I have no unexpressed appreciation.
        If people want to subject themselves to invasions of privacy and intrusive behavior, that’s their choice. It is not mine.

        • Kobukvolbane

          Lol, I was being sarcastic. Your provider preference doesn’t concern me in the least.

    • ButDoctorIHatePink

      I have metastatic cancer, and I have gone to teaching hospitals and been treated wonderfully by students; and I do remember them. Some were tentative, some were assertive but all of them were caring, something that more experienced doctors often lose being too busy.

      It’s sad that you had such a negative experience that you felt compelled to exhibit such disdain over such a lovely post. It’s your right not to have a medical student involved in your care if that’s what you prefer, but that PCP who helped you was once a med student too. How do you expect people to learn? Okay, I know the answer to that, “I don’t care, just not on me.”

      Well, I am willing. Beautiful post.

      • Kaya5255

        Having been in hospital administration for many years, I have had to deal with the fallout from overly aggressive, rude, arrogant and attitudes of entitlement from medical students. I had to address the complaints from the customers and their families at my hospital.
        No, thank you…..no students for me!!!

        • Guest

          You sound like a peach. I bet people LOVE having you as their administrator. Yikes.

          • Kaya5255

            My staff may not love me, but they know that I will take on the medical staff when it is necessary and appropriate to do so.
            It has been my experience that med students are the source of so many of the complaints I receive.
            Customers get really annoyed when they burst into the room and announce they are “Doctor So and So” and they HAVE to examine you, while pulling back your covers!
            Last time I looked, in my state, you have to have a medical license to use the title.
            We, in administration, have many discussions with medical services to keep the “children in check” and respect the wishes of the customers who do not want to be involved with their medical education.

          • Guest

            Let me guess…you are a nurse. I am also reasonably certain you are morbidly obese. Yes, I’ve seen many of your types and run the other way when I see you waddling down the hall.

  • Craig

    Poetry. Bravo!

  • Kobukvolbane

    Thank you for speaking so eloquently about your experiences with so many people at turning points in their lives. I am a nurse who feels the same way about my patients. They have taught me and changed me and nurtured me for 35 years.