Sunday night I was at home with my partner, watching Andy Rooney on 60 minutes, when out of the blue I felt my heart racing and thumping in my chest. Initially I thought it would just pass but after a minute or so I took pause. I sat down and felt my pulse. One hundred eighty beats per minutes. Hmm, I thought as I began to get short of breath and lightheaded. I looked at my partner and he could see something was wrong. I, of course, told him what I thought the diagnosis was and that I would be fine. He would have nothing of it and made me call my doctor. I complied. Before the doctor on call could ring me back (I also know what it feels like to wait for the doctor to call you back!) I had dressed and was getting ready to go to the hospital. We arrived and I was immediately taken to the critial area and pounced on by no less than ten doctors and nurses, shouting orders, sticking me with IV's and hooking me up to all their monitoring equipment. At this point the fear set in. Yep, believe it or not, I am human. And when ill I am very much the patient: vulnerable, scared, wanting information about my condition, and not liking ONE BIT having to wait for anyone when I push that stupid little call button. They must have that thing in order to comply with some regulation. It certainly is not there because they have any desire to know when the patient wants something.
After several hours, the medications kicked in and my heart rate slowed. However, I was informed that I had an abnormal rhythm called "atrial fibrillation" and that they wanted to put me on a blood thinner because I was at risk of having a stroke. And then they all sauntered away, leaving me with this tidbit of information to stew over. After a bit of emotional drama, I remembered that I am a doctor and that I know all the statistics about atrial fibrillation. Yes, I was at risk of a stroke, but a very small risk if the proper medications were started, which they were.
I am now home and recovering just fine. My heart is beating normally and I am going back to work tomorrow. But I think my life has changed in these past few days. My mortality or any lingering questions about it, have been firmly answered: I am going to die someday. And up to that ulitmate and inevitable day, I want to live every moment to the fullest, take every breath with gratitude that I am alive and healthy. I want to be the best doctor I can for my patients and always remember what it is like to be in their shoes. My recent experiences have taught me again this lesson. That to be a healer, I must first remember my humanity. Above all else, it is my humanity that makes me the doctor that I am. It is my IMperfection that makes me perfect. A patient wants a doctor who listens and understands. I may do little more than place my hand on yours but that gesture coming from a person who is seen to have all the answers can be the most healing aspect of the relationship between doctor and patient.
I hope always to heal. To place my hand on yours.