Waking up from surgery can be scary. I have never had major surgery but I imagine that waking up in an unfamiliar room with what seems like a million people staring at you musts be a little unsettling. Today my patient woke up and she looked scared. I met her last week in clinic when I did her H&P and I had talked to her before the surgery so she knew that I would be present in the OR. She was having an elective surgery and the complication rate is low. She did well during surgery but it was slightly more difficult that anticipated and so her lengthened surgery status earned her an overnight admission. I held her hand as she woke up and her eyes told me she was scared. I went with her to recovery and told her that we would be keeping her overnight for observation. Or maybe the nurse mentioned this to her, but in any case I had to explain it to her. She didn't want to let go of my hand so I offered to stay. For half an hour I stayed by her bed and answered questions about her surgery. I tried to reassure her and I offered the only thing I could think of my time and my self. Eventually I tracked down the attending to come reassure her and I continued to check on her throughout the day. She will be fine. I was told by a resident that I wasn't acting like a surgeon. But you know- I am okay with that.
Being newly diagnosed with cancer. Being alone in the the hospital over a Holiday weekend. Being in pain. These are depressing things. So understandably my patient was minutes from tears when I entered her room this morning. She felt forgotten about. A simple procedure and biopsy of her mass were put on hold over the long weekend. As she talked and cried I offered her a tissue and she said they were bigger and softer the the hospital issued ones. She most likely has terminal cancer (and she knows this) and yet she thanked me for giving her a kleenex and listening to her. As a medical student I don't have much power, I can't make decisions and my knowledge of actual important medical information is tiny. But I can provide kleenex, hold a hand and lend an ear. Maybe these aren't behaviors of surgeons but they sure make me feel like I'm doing something.
Today was one of the most fulfilling days I've had in surgery. I went to the OR but it wasn't what I did in the OR that I am reflecting upon, it is all of the stuff I did beforehand and afterwards. Patients by their very nature are going to be scared, anxious, neglected. Isn't it our job as physicians to notice this and do our best to help them cry, accept and move on? Isn't it our job to comfort them?