Thursday, June 3, 2010

Heart As Big As The Hospital

Pictured above is the Columbia University Medical Center. It is, in fact, the place I hope to complete a few rotations during medical school, if not all of them. But you know, it got me to thinking a bit deeper. It got me to thinking that though a human heart is born to love, care, respect, and so much more, the doctor's heart truly is something special and really something that should be as big as the hospital.

You see, our hearts aren't the ones that thrive off of the scientific side of medicine; our heads are simply satisfied with that. Our hearts, however, thrive on seeing our patients healing, responding, and most importantly, thriving. I just noticed that I'm using the pronoun "our" just as though I'm a doctor, but if there's one thing I've learned in my short career as a 'future doctor',' it would have to be the fact that once you're certain that you'd like to enter the medical profession as a doctor, in particular, it doesn't matter how much educaton you have in order to have the same mindset. It's just the heart that's important.

One of my personal doctors, namely, my neurosurgeon, showed me that his heart is indeed as big as the hospital in the late night hours of July 11, 2000.

My parents had gone to the Braves All-Star game that night at Turner Field, and my sister and I were staying with my mom's best friend's daughter, who is now the best nurse I've ever seen. For a week, I had been displaying flu-like symptoms, which, for those of us who are fortunate enough to carry around a ventriculoperitoneal shunt, can be extremely treacherous.

After my parents had arrived home and I had been lying on the couch with a pillow over my face, lying flat on my back, and vomiting incessantly all night long, my mom decided it was time to really evaluate the situation to see what conditions were and how we should handle the situation. I ate, I believe it was a popsicle, sitting straight up in a straight back recliner because I couldn't move my neck due to severe pain, and I couldn't touch my chin to my chest. Which, unbeknown to my ten year old self at the time, is a sure sign for shunt failure. A sure sign.

After eating the popsicle with laborious effort, I told my mom to call the hospital. At the ripe old age of ten years old, I had more body awareness than most do in their lifetime. I knew something was wrong. A brief phone call led to a rushed trip to the hospital that is fifteen minutes from our house.

I vaguely remember the parking lot of the hospital that night. Shortly after we got out of the car, I fainted, cold and lifeless, in my mother's arms. Hurriedly running into the emergency department, she screams, "DOCTOR! WE NEED A DOCTOR NOW!" The doors of the emergency department flung open, and still unresponsive, I laid on te bed in the observation room as the staff prepared to airlift me to my pediatric hospital, which is about fifty minutes from the local hospital. Shortly after the phonecall was made, I became responsive once again, and turned my head to the right. To my right, I saw my twin sister. I heard her screaming, "Please don't let her die!" over the crocodile tears that streamed down her face.

The decision was finally made that I would be transported by ground to the pediatric hospital, and my mother, her best friend, and my sister would follow behind us. Inside the ambulance, it was all I could do to keep from screaming. I was grateful for the emergency medical staff around me, the doctor that came with me, and the millions of intravenous fluid tubes surrounded the gurney, but all I wanted was quiet, The pounding, so loudly echoing inside my head, drained me of my energy. Drained me of my life. Drained me of my soul.

Upon arriving at the hospital, the first person I saw who looked vaguely familiar was my uncle, who lives about ten minutes from the hospital. I remember just the outline of his face and the thick Harry Potter book curled into his right hand. "Hello there, sweet girl," he muttered. "Hi, Uncle Jim," I responded back. "Thank you." While we waited for my mother, many things happened, most of which I only have faint memories. A skinny, dutiful anesthesiologist walks into the room and says he needs to take me back for imaging. Immediately confused, I ask for a radiology technician. Ultimately, she was the one to escort me. Maybe the anesthesiologist meant well, but I wasn't taking any chances without my mother, a backup person who knew my history. Finally, after the CT scan was complete, I see my mother for the first time since the local hospital.

Shortly thereafter, the radiologist had reviewed the scans, we were under the impression that my doctor had been called, and he revealed that shunt failure had been ruled out. Here we go on the battle known as viral meningitis. First stop: The lab. For a lumbar puncture. Meanwhile, my mom was pacing up and down the hall outside the temporary room. Suddenly, she runs into my neurosurgeon. He's headed out of the emergency exit doors as she blurts, "Oh, thank God. You're here!" He stopped, and he asked my mom what she was doing at the hospital. Mid-sentence, he stopped. He screamed, "Where in the world is Erin?" Mom tells him, and he runs.

As the doors to the lab fly open, the needle is inches from my spine. I hear his voice, my cry becomes louder, and he comes to the head of the bed in my line of vision. He takes the needle from the doctor's hand, and calmly, he whispers, "It's okay. I'll take care of this." Grabbing my hand, he smiles. "Hey, little girl. You're okay. Let me take some fluid and then we'll see each other in the OR in 30 minutes. Sound good?" I nod my head slightly.

The surgery is performed, and everything is now revised. I'm feeling well after a night in the hospital, and the door to my hospital room creaks open. I hear a sniffle, see my doctor with his round glasses and sharp grin peering through the door, and I smile. Coming to sit down on the bed, he faintly says, "Wow. I think that was a fluke last night." My mom looks confused. "Why do you say that, Doc?" she asks. "Because no one ever paged me. I didn't know you were here. I woke up at 3am and decided I just needed to go to the hospital. My wife thought I was nuts."

Teary-eyed, my mom responds, "No, Doc. It wasn't a fluke. It was a miracle. You saved my daughter's life."

My angel doctor proved to me that his heart is indeed as big as the hospital, and his heart will be reflected in my own.

Thanks, Angel Doctor. I love you.

1 comment:

  1. Very emotional indeed, dear Erin.

    So happy to know you are with us!

    What a lovely way for your doctor to show his caring.

    (What if the doctor doesn't work in the hospital? What can their heart be as big as then? And what if their patients don't thrive, respond and heal?)

    You must have been so relieved that your shunt didn't fail.

    Viral menigitis is something else!