I wanted to share a serendipitous story about a patient I saw in the office.
I normally introduce myself when I enter the room, but today was particularly chaotic and I wrongly assumed she would know my name.
I sat down, said hello, and asked how I could help her.
She shared with me that she was having new onset upper abdominal pain, and that she was due for a colonoscopy. I informed her that she would need an upper endoscopy and colonoscopy, and noticed immediate concern in her masked face.
“Every since my husband passed from having a colonoscopy, I have been scared to have one,” she stated.
She responded that her husband’s colonoscopy was performed by Dr. Cho several years ago.
Alerted by a name that sounded like mine, I promptly searched the medical records and discovered that I had performed his colonoscopy eight years ago.
At the time, he was admitted to the hospital due to acute rectal bleeding.
During his colonoscopy, his breathing deteriorated and he expired due to cardiopulmonary arrest.
Suddenly, I remember speaking with her in the recovery area, explaining to her what had happened, a terrible unforeseen complication of sedating a patient who was very sick– her husband who she would never share memories with again.
She told me that she thought it was me, but was unsure since I was wearing a mask and had not introduced myself upon entering the room.
She explained to me that since losing her husband, she transitioned to caring for her ailing mother, leaving no time to grieve. Her physical and mental health gradually deteriorated. When her mother moved to her brother’s home last year, she and her mother’s health improved, but she still remembers the fateful day like it was yesterday.
As I absorbed the sadness of her story, separated from her by masks and distance, I felt her loss like it was yesterday.
She remembered that I hugged her that day and told her it was the worst day of my professional life.
We hug again and both agree it was good we met again, years after a day that changed our lives.
Gastroenterologists, like other doctors, often feel rushed in their day, and may not always feel like they have time to address all of a patient’s concerns.
When a patient and their family members see a doctor for an illness, they often need and want not only medical attention, but empathy and transparency.
When I feel rushed and tired, I try to remind myself of this advice.
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