When my first patient died, I cried enough tears to fill a small fish tank. After the first death, came death number two, then three, then four. Every time a patient I’ve developed a semi-deep relationship with dies, a part of me freezes on the inside. It’s like armor, or scales rather I’ve pieced over my skin, scale by scale with every death. My tears flow less, my heart pains less, but this does not mean I lose compassion. I don’t stop seeing myself in my patients, my loved ones in them. I don’t want the patient lying in her own filth, her fingernails covered in her own shit, to be my beloved grandmother. Or the man who wants to cry for the first time in his life because he feels so alone and that a hospital worker can’t give him five minutes to listen to how he just wants his teeth brushed and his face shaved– I don’t want that to be my father, ever.
A million stories, a story everyday as I walk down the halls, from one corner of the hospital to the next, from the fourth to the fifth floor. I see about 15 patients a day, I know their names, their histories, their fears. As a physical therapist, I have the leisure of conversing with my patients, of cracking a joke with them, and feeling for them, advocating for them. I’ve covered shivering patients with blankets, brought patients refreshing cold water, changed diapers, massaged dirty feet, scratched backs, sympathized, empathized and have done more than a PT should do for patients… why? Because I believe in Karma.
I no longer cry when I see my patients cry because it’s not professional. But I still feel for them, I really do. I don’t care if I have to leave a little later at night, I spend an extra minute or so with every patient, asking them before I leave, “How else can I help you? Any other questions?” I leave with a good bye, see you tomorrow, take care, god bless you for the religious. I feel a sense of accomplishment that I made someone smile, feel a little better, even for a few minutes. A patient in the hospital is like a prisoner, except worse– a patient has to hear a million stories from doctor who and who, leave her/his life in the hands of strangers, shit into a diaper and wait for sometimes hours as the shit festers, for a tech or nurse to come change him/her. I’ve had patients sitting in his/her pool of urine, patients with hands smeared in crap, patients shivering cold that they have to wrap themselves with the curtains in their rooms, patients who have never heard from their doctors after the first visit, patients who cry and scream because they’re in pain, patients who no one listens to or just give five minutes to treat them like a human being.
I don’t give a damn if you’re a doctor who makes half a million a year, and millions more for the hospital from surgeries, that you have a name and that everyone respects you in the hospital– if you can’t give a patient a minute of your time to introduce yourself, or have the courtesy to answer questions without looking bored or angry, then you should become a mortician– that way, you don’t have to interact with the patients. I’m sorry to say this but residents and doctors with a few years under their belts have lost all bed-side manners whatsoever. It’s a shame. I’ve worked in various hospitals this past year across NYC, and I already know which ones I would never ever bring my loved ones to… shame shame shameful disgusting shame.