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Thursday, January 21, 2016

Snapshot of a moment

So many moments to remember. The 90 year old man in the ICU, head down, back hunched—I needed to hold his hand. I know it matters. Wife also hospitalized—lupus and dementia—he kept saying "oxygen." The defeatedness in his face. "Lymphoma" his first whispered words. The bright, white hospital light—too bright. There needed to be tenderness for this frail, strong man. As the resident and intern walk away, the patient turns to me, eyes bright and wide, hand still in mine, squeezing. I lean in close to listen: "I need oxygen or I get violent." The resident waits for me, at the door. O2 sat 94%, fine, but he was short of breath. Resident shrugs, "he's okay."

I wanted to stay. I wish I could do more. We are in the presence of such vulnerability, such humanness, and every little thing—touch, listen, glance, leaning—matters, I think, I hope, as I walk down the hall with the residents, back to our ward.

There have been a couple of encounters like this in the past weeks (another week gone by, already?). It's hard to stop and write and think. It's hard to collect my thoughts and process them. It's easy to let my emotions dictate myself. I wanted to write about Obama's State of the Union Address. About America the Philosophical. About e.e. cummings at Book Culture. But right now I need another kind of mental processing. I'm yearning, toiling, praying, loving.


  1. What an enjoyable read! We tend to take for granted such a simple process as breathing; that is, until we study and appreciate their sheer intricacies. And while the particulars often leave us mesmerized or frustrated at times, the rigor provides impetus to explore further the inner working of the human body—an amazing prototype that have spawned many imitations from artificial intelligence (AI) to random gadgets.

    I think the hoopla that medicine creates time and time again is that very experience you graciously shared. The opportunity to provide empathy and care for the patient in a holistic fashion—beyond the lab values—is an incredible skill that can’t be overlooked. For all the wonders and power of medicine in treating the sick, donning the white coat entails that the future and current physicians be patient advocates (an admirable trait) even when all the answers aren’t always known.

    The experience you shared is all too real for many families and practitioners, but the line “I need oxygen or I get violent”, as you held his hands, was priceless (after the fact).

    At that, I enjoyed a good chuckle!

    1. K, this has meant so much to me. With apologies for the long-delayed reply, thank you! I'm very grateful, and will carry these thoughts with me as I continue to see patients!