As a third-year medical student, I realized one particular morning on rounds that I had let the demands of the job overtake the joys of why I went into medicine at all. I found myself running behind my team, barely even able to say goodbye to the last patient we had seen. The human interaction had become an afterthought in the checklist of things we needed to get done for the day, a truly sad reality of modern American health care. And so, before I tumble down another hallway behind a herd of stampeding physicians, I want to unburden myself of a few thoughts.
To all of my patients — past, present, and future:
I apologize. I am sorry for the early mornings that I have awoken you, hours before breakfast arrives, or daylight can brighten your quiet room. For the many days where you don’t get to ask all of your questions as our team rushes in and out, trying to complete our tasks before the next conference or operation or presentation — for those days, I am sorry. I am sorry for the visits where we seem more focused on your vital signs and lab results than on you — you are more than a set of numbers trending up and down, more than x-ray reads and BMPs. I know, although I may not always remember, that you wait for hours for those few minutes that you have our attention. And thus, for the times you felt like we weren’t listening, weren’t understanding, were not being the doctors we took oath to be — on behalf of us all, I am so sorry.
I am sorry, my patients, for any time where you were not treated with respect, whether by me, by your residents or your attending, by your nurses or your technicians, or anyone who has made your illness even more challenging.
I am sorry for the cases for which we didn’t have the answer — the answer to when you would go home, to how many years you would have left, to when the pain would stop — trust me when I say, we too wish we knew. To you, my dear patients, I am sorry for the nights that your family stayed awake, worrying, hoping, waiting, for I know that you too bore the burden of their hurt, in addition to your own. I am sorry for the days I was not there — when I left the hospital, able to enjoy a warm sun or the comfort of my own bed, when you remained behind — because you, unlike me, have no days off.
And lastly, I am sorry for the times that we may have failed to cure you, for medicine is far from a perfect science, but I am more sorry, my patients, for the times that we failed to heal. Please, forgive me.
I want to say to you as well: Thank you. Thank you for teaching me the value of patience — I will remember you if and when I am also one day a patient. Thank you for showing me the joys of the little things in the hospital — the moments that we laughed together, despite all that you faced; the power of a single hug, a human embrace that no disease can overcome; for I am starting to learn that these are indeed the big things in life.
Because of you, every day that I wake up has a calling, for I know that another life awaits me — thank you for this immense privilege. Thank you, my patients, for teaching me the meaning of love, as I see your families never complain, never longing for the world outside — their world lies in a bed in front of them. I thank you for the trust you put in me from the day that we first meet until our final goodbyes. And thank you, my patients, for never giving up on the will to live until the time has come, and for accepting it when it does.
Know that you have taught and inspired me more than you may think.
Abraar Karan is a medical student who blogs at Swasthya Mundial. He can be reached on Twitter @AbraarKaran.
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