On the Side: August 2022
One Month Down…
by Sharon Chatwell
I don’t drag out my MD for just any occasion. Typically, I keep it tucked away. But today I thought I would speak (indirectly) to residents, especially first-year residents or interns, so it seemed appropriate. Perhaps you ladies, who are reading this article, will pass along my remarks to the young physicians in your lives.
You have just finished your first month of residency. By now, you are a hardened professional, whereas 31 days ago you were a wide-eyed novice. Congratulations.
In mid-July, a friend of mine, whose child has just started his internal medicine residency, told me he had been hand-picked to work in the ICU on his first month. Since he is a very promising young physician, this was no great surprise. But she said something else that really struck me.
She told me that he came home and said, “You know, Mom, I went in the first week thinking I was going to work hard and save everybody. But now I realize that, no matter what I do, most of the folks in there are just going to die.”
There you go. That realization is what changes you from a wide-eyed novice into a hardened professional. People die. And often there is absolutely nothing you can do to change that.
I felt sorry for this young man. I know him. He is brash and a bit full of himself. Bright, brilliant even, and like I said earlier, a very promising young physician. There is nothing like being humbled by death or the prospect of it. I felt sorry that he had to run into this truth so hard, so early on.
I leaned over to my friend and said to her, “Tell your son that it is true that not everyone in the ICU lives, but their families and loved ones will always remember how much you cared and all you did to try and help them.”
I have found this to be true not only in the ICU but in every place where we work with patients. Your professionalism, your medical knowledge, your expertise and your caring are what matter, not only to patients, but to their families as well.
But caring is the most important part, isn’t it? That’s why you are in medicine to start with, right? You wanted to help people. You wanted to help make them better. You wanted to do surgery, okay, or deliver babies, or fight cancer, or whatever else you also wanted to do. Fine, those things can go along with it. But really, you wanted to make people better and you figured you could do it.
Good for you. Those are all good reasons for sitting through all of those anatomy lectures, for taking all of those notes in pharmacology and even for scraping through parasitology. You did it! You made it! You are here!
But people die.
I remember having a heartfelt (read “loud”) disagreement with the director of the Bone Marrow Transplant Unit where I trained. I had a patient, just a few years older than me at the time, who was a wife and mother of two little girls. She was a patient in this unit and had suffered through two (count them, two) failed bone marrow transplants. And she was staring down the barrel of a third one.
The director was explaining to me how my patient had to attempt another transplant. I had helped take care of her during both of her previous ones. “No,” I said. “She doesn’t want another one.” He told me, “But, Sharon, if she doesn’t have this transplant, she will die.” “People die, Dr. F.,” I said. Then he told me, “We can’t just do nothing!” He insisted that I present the option to her. I did so.
At last, she decided to try it, for her daughters’ sakes. She had it done. I rotated off the service and went on to the CCU. A friend told me when she passed away.
“Life is as long as a piece of string,” they say. No one knows how long the string is for any one person. It is different for all of us.
“…all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be,” writes the psalmist (Psalm 139:16b, NIV). He was right.
God is the only one who knows who dies and when. He is the only one who stands between any of us and death. But God has a plan for each of our lives, and He won’t allow anyone to die before the day He has ordained.
His plan for you, evidently, is that you be a doctor. So, be a good one! Go out there and fight the good fight. Take on evil, when and where you find it, and fight it as hard as you can. Care about your patients. Pray for them. Pray with them. Talk with their families. Do everything that you can do. Make them better.
Your wife, your loved ones, will understand, a bit better now perhaps, what you are up against. Why you come home at night exhausted. Why you sometimes feel demoralized by your job. Other folks don’t face the same challenges in their workplace as you do. We understand. We are married to you, and we love you.
Hang in there. One month down…
Sharon is a physician, and the wife of a physician, living in beautiful Lincoln, Nebraska. She wishes you all well, whether you are heading in to your first year of residency or getting ready for retirement. God bless you all!