Recently my grandmother was sick. I got news of a stomach bug, and didn't think much of it. Then, she was sicker. She went to the OR for a bowel resection after an obstruction was diagnosed, and had subsequent kidney failure. I anxiously pressed my parents for what the surgeon said, for a consent to send me the operative report, for information on previous kidney function, and prognosis. I asked, and asked, and they just couldn't tell me much. I desperately wanted to see her, wanted to talk to her physicians doc-to-doc, to really understand what was going on and evaluate her with my own eyes and hands, to tell her I love her. Because after all my time working in the ER, the ICU, with patients that are very sick, I know that there are no guarantees at eighty-five, that sometimes there are things we just can't fix.
And I was here. Working. Taking care of other people's families, while I just wanted to take care of my own. I would get little bits of information, and tell my parents what I knew about her illnessess, that this was a normal course for bowel obstruction, that often times kidneys can recover if it is an acute failure. I talked to my sister before she went to visit, warning her that Grandma would look sick, and have a tube coming from her stomach to her nose draining vile looking green liquid, and that this was normal and she shouldn't be alarmed by it. I was angry about being here, knowing the only time I would get off for this illness was if she died from it, and by then, what would my being there matter?
I thought about Grandma as I touched my patients, caring for them, praying that somewhere, some other doctor was taking good care of her. That some other doctor was away from his own family because he was taking care of mine.
And she got better. Not all the way yet, but better. The kidneys recovered, as I thought they would, and she was able to eat again. But this experience stuck with me, because someday, someone I love will be sick, and I won't be able to be there. I won't be there to care for my loved one, to explain to my family what is really going on, what these medical words mean, and I'll be making guesses over the phone, just like I did this time, waiting for an operative report to be faxed and feeling helpless. This is an unspoken sacrifice of becoming a physician, and one that I underestimated. Somewhere in the greater universe, it makes sense to me that this is the sacrifice of all physicians, and that we take good care of our patients because these patients could be our own loved ones, and sometimes they are.
But I still wanted to be there.