This past Wednesday, I had the privilege of going to Ben Taub with several classmates as part of our mandatory “clinical ethics rounds.” Though I can’t discuss the patient and/or symptoms (HIPAA), it’s fair to say that what I saw spurred something inside of me.
I’m used to neurosurgical scenarios in the operating room – patients coming in with herniated spinal discs, frontal lobe astrocytomas, transsphenoidal approaches to resecting pituitary tumors and the like. For the most part, post-operative visits with patients tend to be pleasant, productive, and rewarding. Once in a while, complications from surgery (paralysis, loss of cognitive ability, etc.) have to be explained to the patient and their loved ones, but the fact that there are loved ones at the bed side makes it easier for me to handle.
However, the patient at Ben Taub was far different. What I saw was helplessness in its purest form. A part of me wanted to reach out, but I couldn’t. I remained quiet for most of the ethical discussion which followed the patient encounter as I thought about a fellow human being in that condition. What if it was my mom, dad, or another loved one? Would my ethical considerations be biased by association?
That patient’s snapshot will be with me for quite some time, and it’ll serve as a humbling reminder of the noble profession I am currently pursuing.
I will not disappoint.