Last night I had one of the most vivid and realistic dreams I can remember in detail. It started with an innocent gesture of humanism. A child had slipped in the middle of a busy intersection, and I tried to save him from colliding with an oncoming truck. Although I can’t remember exactly what followed, I ended up sustaining multiple superficial injuries, but more importantly, fragments of metal impinging my cervical spine and cerebellum (yes, I’m on neuroanesthesia this month) based on imaging I received later that morning.
I suddenly became the patient awaiting a difficult and risky surgery near my brain and spinal cord. A neurosurgery attending who I respect tremendously had recommended several (private) hospitals, but I was adamant about staying at my training institution and allowing his team of residents to perform the surgery. I know them. I trust them. And I know that despite being at a county hospital, I would receive some of the best medical care available.
Later that day, I happened to run into one of the neurosurgery chiefs at work (apparently I still went to work?), a gifted individual who I’d scrubbed alongside when I was a third year medical student. Surrounded by textbooks and case reports about how to best approach my surgical situation, he said, “We’re going to try to post you as the first case tomorrow.” 😯
By sheer coincidence, my fellow anesthesia residents and program director had a conference that evening where I ultimately opened up about my surgery the next day and even showed them my unnerving MRI images. It was a tearful exhibition which I hope to never experience again. My prognosis was grim. I was already aching everywhere and having neuropathic findings from my aforementioned injuries. Although I remained as stoic as ever, my psyche was a twisted mix of fear, anxiety, and despair.
Then the alarm rang. 5:00 AM. I cleared my head, thanked God that it was all a nightmare (wiggled my fingers and toes to prove I’m at baseline) and began to get ready for work to perform a neuroanesthetic on a patient who is actually living many aspects of my aforementioned nightmare. My patients’ concerns, fears, and overall bravery were almost tangible in my thoughts, but reality is a completely different story.
I have a renewed sense of humanism and compassion in comforting those who face such devastating diagnoses and risky surgeries.