“they’re such a romantic couple,” said my friend as we walked away from the bedside of a man who was just admitted.
“why do you say so?” i asked.
“he just said those three magic words to her!”
the patient was a middle-aged man who had weakness of his limbs. his wife spent most of the time nagging him about falling asleep while the doctors clerked him, fretting about his condition and asking loads of questions. she was visibly anxious, but we knew it was a demonstration of her love. her husband knew it too.
it’s been almost a week and his condition deteriorated during the first couple of days of admission. i saw him and his wife for the first time today after he was discharged from icu. it was evident that the events that unfolded following her husband’s admission had taken a toll on her. she was no longer nagging. she didn’t ask many questions. she looked absolutely miserable as she watched over the man who had told her he loved her right there in the ward just a few days ago.
the medical ward is a depressing place. once in awhile there is a diagnostic mystery that piques everyone’s interest and draws our attention to the medical aspect of things, but most of the time i find myself dwelling in the sadness of patients and their families. while writing about one of the first patients i met during this rotation, i couldn’t help but remember how worried his wife was. she kept asking me if he will recover, if he developed the stroke because they could not afford to buy the test strips required for home glucose monitoring. it was a difficult question to answer because she obviously did not know what a stroke is. she did not understand that recovery will take up alot of her resources and time. it’s not just about good glycaemic control or obedience to the doctors’ instructions.
then there are the painful resuscitations and deaths and the counselling for “do not resuscitate” orders that come in between. with a death occurring almost every day, it’s impossible to escape the soft sobs and solemn phone calls in the corridors.
perhaps i’m being emotional or maybe i just haven’t been doing this long enough, but i find medicine an absolutely depressing discipline. once the diagnostic challenge is over and the thrill of getting it right makes way for the gravity of the disease, it becomes a long process of monitoring just how badly the patient has deteriorated and whether efforts at slowing the progression to death are working.
i’m still a student and it will take another 2-3 years before i gain full registration as a doctor, but i am unsure if this empathy thing is going to do my mental health any favours. maybe i will have to consider non-clinical options. this really isn’t working out.