Suffering excruciating belly pain and actively dying, the man appeared nevertheless to fully digest the scene: an operating room scurrying to ready for something serious, complex, and emergent. Plus, for him, this event was extraordinarily personal – intimate, even.
Thank you, all of you. For studying and everything; I mean it. And thank you, in advance, for doing your best.
This is what a man with a ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysm said as we shoved him from gurney to operating table. It’s the only time I’ve been thanked for studying. I like to pass the gratitude along to current students and residents.
Patients give out little thank you’s all the time. They’re not accustomed to being so dependent, after all. They ask many tiny favors.
Can you push that table a little closer? Can you shut the door please? Can I get a cup of ice water? Thank you, thank you, thank you.
Big thank you’s usually come during the post-op visit, after recovery. These are the sweet ones. The patient takes your hand then adds his/her other, making yours the middle of a hand sandwich.
Dr Porter, I just want to say thank you, for everything.
Only once did I get the big thank you before surgery. The man’s insight still strikes me. I thought about it a great deal during the days that followed.
I recalled certain nights I stayed home to study:
- When a good friend called with Sonics/Jazz tickets. Self-absorbed in med school, I’d lost track of him. Didn’t know he was starting forward for the Jazz.
- When a roommate announced that Nirvana was playing a secret gig under a pseudonym at a local club.
I recalled the test-every-Monday fourteen-week semester and falling asleep on the bus, passing my stop and walking home miles in pouring rain in a bad part of town.
In the late nineties, my siblings prospered ridiculously, started families, had every weekend off, gathered for holidays without me, and never got up before 6 AM.
The patient with the fifty-fifty chance of overnight survival was thanking me for these sacrifices.
He acknowledged everybody with sincerity. He seemed to judge he’d never been the focus of so much trained attention, so much expensive technology and inventory. He knew the seven masks surrounding him possessed the moxie to open his catastrophic abdomen. But he hoped even more, I’m sure, that we were the kids in the libraries on Friday nights, trading young years for the chance to one day staunch hemorrhage in a dying man.
He thanked us for preparing for this moment.
Chris Porter MD
Here’s a page of inspiration for long nights: Like a Surgeon