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Medical Humanities

What I Wish I’d Said

Janelle Vu

April 15, 2016

During the time your husband was in the ICU, you greeted me by name every morning. I’ll never forget your warmth. Every morning, I asked your husband to squeeze my hand even though I knew he couldn’t. You believed in him and I wanted to hope too.  I sat right outside his room for the most part of every day. My resident and I stayed late because we wanted to be there if something went wrong. When it did, I did the best chest compressions that I could. I stalked his EMR chart constantly and knew what his lab values were at any point throughout the day. In reading his charts, I knew that he had talked to his doctor about you, calling you his “smokin’ hot girlfriend” at first, and later, his intelligent and beautiful wife. At only 40 years old, he had such hope for your future and talked about his excitement to have children with you. I wanted to tell you that, but I didn’t think it was my place. I watched you cry every day, holding his hand and pleading for him to wake up. I wanted to reach out, to put my hand on your shoulder, or to tell you I was sorry. But I didn’t. I felt that I wasn’t worthy because I couldn’t possibly understand your pain. I figured that the resident or the attending would be better at consoling you because they played more meaningful roles in his care. I know you were angry and wanted to find answers. We did too. I searched the literature to look for reasons why he’d gotten so sick so suddenly. My resident and attending did too. It was the first time I’d seen a team of doctors, social workers, and nurses work so hard in the care of a patient.  Everyone was rooting for him.

The day he died, I left without saying goodbye. I thought I had another day before any decisions would be made about his life support. You’d wanted more tests, more opinions. I didn’t know you’d find peace overnight. When I found his empty room the next morning, I was overcome with grief. My resident had to hug me as I cried uncontrollably in the hallway.

I am so sorry for your loss. I wish I had said goodbye to him, to you, to your family. I wish I could’ve told you how much you taught me about being a doctor. You renewed my goals of being a doctor who views patients as people- with goals, potential, and sometimes, more life to live. You taught me to care more deeply than I knew I could. I gave more of myself than I ever had before. You taught me to put myself in your shoes, to want to relieve your family’s suffering, and to learn as much as I could to better your husband’s care. You have reenergized my desire to serve patients and you have made me a better doctor for it.