Thursday, 12 June 2014

All the small things


I have just come off of a long day's work and thought it was worth sharing an observation based on a couple of patients today.
I have noticed that it seems to be the small things that make patients happy and thankful, rather than the big things that we think matter the most in the medical profession. Take the two patients below.

The first patient is a 35 year old woman who has an aggressive, metastatic cancer. She was in under us a month ago and my consultant hinted to her long term partner that perhaps they could consider getting married due to the poor prognosis. She came back to us this week, much sicker and more poorly, sadly having planned her wedding this week, and having to miss it as she is in hospital, sick. We have been trying to get on top of the infection she has, and the cancer, to give her more time, but this is difficult. We are not sure she will be able to make it out of the hospital, and I have started trying to organise a wedding for her inside the hospital. Since this planning started, she has become a different woman; much brighter, much happier and much more healthy. All of the complex medical procedures and drugs we have been using for her haven't really made much of an impression, but this small idea has made her a different person. Every time I see her she thanks me for the idea of the wedding and the plan, but never thanks the consultant for the chemotherapy or for the complex surgical interventions that have been used. 

The second patient is a lady with heart failure and fluid build up on the lungs. We have been taking all this fluid off, and she can now walk properly due to being able to breath, and her legs not being all swollen all the time. This has made a huge difference to her, but today on the ward round, and yesterday on the ward round, she just wanted to say thanks to me for talking to her and listening to her worries. She is worried about her husband, and how he is coping at home without her, she is worried about her sister and her new diagnosis of cancer, and she is worried about her own heart. On Tuesday I had a sit down and chat with her while taking some bloods for 30 minutes or so, and now every time we see her she wants to thank us for being so kind and listening. Not for all the diuretics which have sorted out her lungs, or the ultrasound which diagnosed the problem. 

The problem I find with medicine is that moments like this; where you can sit down for 30 mins to talk to someone about their worries about their family; or where you can try and sort out a wedding in a hospital, are not usually possible in hospital medicine. I spend most of the time chasing my tail around with far too much to do. I like to think that, if we employed a few more people then we would all have more time to do things like this - things we all want to do.

I feel like I have had a really rewarding day because of these things, not because of the ascitic drains I put in today, or the clever diagnosis of rheumatoid lung I (might) have made, and the patients feel the same. It would be nice to have a system which let us do more of these things, but I will certainly do my best to try and do what makes a difference, clinical or not


  1. I couldn't agree more. Thanks for this post, I've had many similar experiences. I think it's easy to lose sight of the wider human aspects of our patients' illnesses, and especially so as we move up the career ladder. Hope we can both hold on to our humanity as we become more skillful medics!

  2. Hi, love your blog. Just added a link to your site from mine. Look forward to reading more of your posts!

  3. Unfortunately it is hard to escape the vicious cycle of the ugly medical system that treat the body as a separate entity.

    Hat's off for you doctor. Well done indeed.

  4. I have just added you to my regular reads list. Thanks for the posts and I'll be reading any new ones you do.