It is easy to forget…

It is 9am. The first patient comes through the theatre doors. A little 2-month old baby appears cradled in her mother’s arms, comfortable and at peace. After a quick confirmation of the procedure and the consent form, WHO regulations, the mother anxiously places her baby on the bed. With tears falling down her face she presses a kiss on her baby’s forehead and slowly begins to leave. As she leaves the anaesthetists begin their work.

The surgery was going well. The scrub nurses were ensuring the surgeons had their equipment at hand. The anaesthetists were carefully observing the patients’ stats. The surgeons were making their fine cuts and sutures hence swiftly conducting the procedure. Just as much as the team, I became so engrossed by the operation. I was thinking back to my lectures, trying to apply the medical knowledge I had gathered over the year to make sense of the procedure in front of me. I was listening out for key terms the team were throwing around and noted them to myself. And ultimately, I wanted to fulfil the point of the shadowing which was to try and figure out whether this was the medical specialty for me.

As the surgery came to a successful end and the final stitch had been tied, the team began to remove the blue sheets. At this point the reality of it all dawned on me. I realised something was wrong. During the procedure my perspective of the scenes that had unfolded before my eyes had altered. The amalgamation of the anatomy, the work and the medical terms had clouded my mind and as a result of gravitating towards the science, in the midst of it all, I had gradually lost touch with the patient. This tiny being in front of me, that had been draped in a sea of blue sheets had just become another surgical case to apply my knowledge too and to carefully observe the skills the surgeons were using in order to conduct such a procedure.  Yet this was the same baby that I had seen anaesthetised only a few hours ago. Guilt washed over me as the images of the crying mother flooded my mind as I realised there was so much more to this case than just the procedure. There was life.

In the moment of it all, I had become medically selfish, I had forgotten the baby’s worried mother and the family patiently waiting in hope that everything will be OK. There was not just a patient in front of me but in fact a human being.

I have always read and heard that in the process of trying to extract problems and focussing on finding solutions in the form of treatments, clinicians forget the patient. However, even though I was aware of all of that, I had fallen into a similar trap. But we must keep reminding ourselves: medicine is about the individual just as much as the conditions we aim to battle.

This epiphany put things into perspective for me and made me realise it is easy to forget.

The experience I have recalled and the lessons learnt, are things we all know and hence nothing new. But as a medical student, I want to take this memory with me for years to come. As I train, I want to try and not forget the person in front of me, as the famous Hippocrates once said “wherever the art of medicine is loved, there is also a love of humanity“, and I think it is a love we should hold onto.

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