Doctor as a Patient for 4 Hours in the Emergency Room

I was always taught in medical school that being a doctor is a privilege and not a right. The analogy given to me by a senior professor was that medical license is just like a driver’s license. Despite all the teachings from experienced physicians, we fail to see and understand what a patient experiences. Last weekend, I experienced sudden onset of left flank pain with fever and chills that required a trip to the ER. My wife called the ER ahead of time and informed the ER physician, who, along with a triage nurse, registration nurse, nurse assistant, and phlebotomist were waiting for us. In less than 30 minutes, my primary care physician was at my bedside; the best surgeon from our university had evaluated me; I had blood drawn; and IVF started. The PO contrast tasted bland and I was told by my spouse to just drink it. They performed a CT and reviewed my blood work before they made a probable diagnosis. I was also discharged within 4 hours. The antibiotics were already called in at the pharmacy and we just went through the drive-through to pick them up. My PCP called me at night to check on my prognosis.

This was outstanding top-notch service befitting only a king and was very impressive. However, multiple thoughts and fears had raced in my mind as I was planning to get to ER. How long will I wait? Who will be at the ER? Was I rude with ER staff in the past and will I have to bear the brunt? The countless stories of patients waiting in the ER for hours haunted me. Questions such as possibility of appendicitis came and went. I wondered, who would read my films? Can they miss the diagnosis? Who will operate on me? Should I allow my own fellows to operate on me or should I request that the surgeon do the complete case? On many occasions, I had lectured the patients about the importance of a teaching institute and the need for fellows and residents to learn. Here, I was hypercritical. I was thinking about the complications of an abdominal surgery. Will it be 1%? What if the 1% is me? I prayed to God to keep me alive just to see my unborn baby girl due in November.

As they inserted the IV lines and drew blood, the sharp needle did hurt but I put up a brave smile. Dr. Dieter and I have accessed at least 5000 femoral arteries in our careers and I might have just said “sorry” when a patient winced with pain from needle access, moving on to give additional local anesthesia in the past. Here I was not able to bear a simple IV puncture. How many patients of mine must have quietly suffered the pain rather than complain?

This trip to ER taught me a valuable lesson regarding a patient’s perspective in a hospital. My trip was quick and efficient with no hiccups but minimal things caused me so much anxiousness. I just started to understand a little bit of a patient’s emotion, family, life, and thinking process as they come to see us. We hope to learn everyday and do a better job with patient care from our experiences.

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