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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Trading Places

 A Medical Student Reflection

Guest post by Satya Das, Third year medical student, Emory University School of Medicine

Two and a half months ago while studying for boards, I suffered an injury playing basketball. The injury to my left buccal mucosa required surgery.  My recovery was largely unremarkable as the bruising and swelling took its course to subside. After the completion of boards and a relaxing vacation at home, I returned excitedly to Emory, ready to begin the transformation my classmates and I had undertaken nearly two years ago.

The Sunday before we began rotations I awoke to find a swollen and pulsing venous cord roughly following the contours of my facial vein. I rushed to the ER only to be placed on antibiotics and told to wait and watch. Thus began a whirlwind of events including several ER stints, referrals, CT scans, facial distension, and ultimately an incision and drainage. I had developed a buccal abscess secondary to a facial vein thrombophlebitis at my original site of surgery.

The sudden turn of events once again forced me into the role of a patient; a role I now realize no one willingly accepts. I can remember thinking to myself as I sat in the waiting area of the ER or lobbies of various specialists that I was oddly on the wrong side of those doors. I was supposed to be the one welcoming those in need of care, not the one being beckoned with an admission bracelet on my wrist. 

Over the course of the next several weeks, I began to understand the frustration patients encounter while navigating through the healthcare system, bouncing from one doctor to another at times without resolution of symptoms and spending more time on hold than with actual receptionists in hopes of setting up the next appointment.  My frustration nearly turned to disgust when I had to fight to obtain the necessary diagnostic imaging that would prove conclusive, even though there was no other course of conservative action left.  The same system I had taken an oath to cherish was the one putting me on wits end.

This experience has had a profound impact on my outlook on what it means to be a patient. The gamut of feelings I faced, from angst to anger, has made me more sensitive to the population I hope to serve.  I walked in the shoes of a patient by becoming one, and in doing so, realized there is much more to healing than taking care of one’s physical ailments.  Recovery, like any other journey is a process, but it is the individual steps of the progression that determine our overall experience. As a health care provider, the way we talk to our patients, the promises we make them regarding their care, the way we deal with their setbacks are equally important as taking care of their symptoms.

Even as I write this piece today, I find myself every morning rushing to the mirror half expecting to be swollen and congested. More so than paranoia or the small venous clots I can still feel, perhaps what draws me to the mirror is the reminder some part of me will always remain a patient.

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