The Patient’s Family

Looking through my old drafts, I found a post written when I was starting medical school that was never published. (Written September 28th, 2008) I’m glad to see I still agree with the feelings and thoughts I had then. Published now three years later as I am about to graduate from medical school. Unedited for authenticity. 

Every week in medical school, we have a class that focuses on how to be a good doctor. In this class we discuss how to take a history, what your posture should be like and how to empathize with patients. At this point in our education, our class generally finds the material confusing, considering we know nothing about anatomy and disease. How does listening to their concerns about their daily function going to help us heal them? How does talking to their family have anything to do with treating a disease? It all seem cryptic until, you’re on the other side.

My Grandpa was hospitalized a few days ago. He had just finished his Sunday afternoon lunch when he started having a shortness of breath. With each breath, there was an increasing pain in his chest. An hour later, he couldn’t breathe. When he was brought in to the hospital, the doctors discovered his right lung had collapsed due to a tension pneumothorax. My Grandpa is 86 years old and has had declining health in the past year. The doctors put in a 22 French chest tube into my Grandpa’s chest and moved him to the ICU. The last time I had been in a hospital was when I saw my Grandma lose her fight to cancer.

As medical students, we sometimes get desensitized from what it means to be sick and how it affects a family. We learn about all sorts of strange diseases in our lectures and labs and we spend enormous amounts of time studying them. After many hours in the library, we understand their pathology, biochemical reactions and common treatments, but we often forget how sickness impacts a patient’s life and their family members.

Even though I am a medical student who understands the science and complications behind my Grandpa’s collapsed lung, I was weak when I heard the bad news. I was overwhelmed with fear and worries. I asked about my Grandpa’s condition and if he would get better. I Google’d his condition and looked for answers. I hung on to every word from the doctor’s mouth. I was just as helpless as any other person.

It is from these experiences – when you become the patient and their family member – that the value of our patient-care classes become meaningful. I want a doctor who is competent AND can explain to things to me clearly and patiently. I want a doctor who will listen to our concerns and will work with us according to our values. Who will take the time to go over everything and ask if there are any other questions. A doctor who not only treats the disease but also heals the patient and their families.

I hope this feeling of uneasiness and nervousness stays with me throughout my journey through medicine. I want to remember how serious sickness can be and how it can cause family members to fly in from all around the world to unite with a loved one. I don’t want to forget how much of an impact illness can have on a family and how scary losing someone can be. I don’t know how my Grandpa will be. He is old and has lived a full life, but I want him to stay… if even for just a bit longer. I still want to talk to him and have dinner with him while listening to his crazy stories. If he passes away, I know my family and my aunts and uncles and cousins will grow more distant.

I don’t want to forget my Grandpa and Grandma. I don’t want to forget what it’s like to be a patient or to be dealing with a sickness in a loved one.

5 Responses to The Patient’s Family

  1. Anonymous says:

    love this entry…

  2. Emily says:

    This is a really sweet and powerful post. Thank you for sharing it with the world!

  3. […] a medical student from Canada with an eponymous blog, posted about the time his grandfather was hospitalized and the formative emotional impact that it had on […]

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