Thursday, August 14, 2014

A patient's goal

Sometimes we get so caught up in our lives that we forget about the little things. I remember writing on here once about how a research subject of mine who also uses a wheelchair said to me once, “It’s the little things that you miss the most.” I whole-heartedly agree.

When I couldn’t swallow and had to eat pureed food and drink thickened liquids, I yearned to eat a nice slice of pizza. After about a month and a half, I was finally able to do that on my birthday.

Whenever I see patients who cannot swallow, my heart goes out to them. The taste of both simple and complex foods is something that is not really appreciated by us until we cannot do so. A lot of people I know cannot go a day, let alone a few hours, without eating. Self-control in terms of more sensible/healthy choices versus unhealthy options is also becoming rare. Food is the drug we take advantage of and abuse.

During my first month as a “real doctor”, I worked in the spinal cord injury unit at the VA hospital. I developed a good relationship with my patients there. There was one patient in particular with whom I would just sit by and talk with for a long time. He was on a ventilator and could not speak, so he would mouth his words out to me. It would take a long time for him to tell me things, but we made it work. A feeding tube had been placed so he did not eat. I did not ask him the last time it was that he ate or drank something but he told me how he really misses eating and misses the taste of the food we all indulge in, like burgers and pizza. He had a lower cervical level spinal cord injury, which meant he was paralyzed from neck down and had the ability to use his arms but not his fingers. He was in the hospital being treated for a large pressure ulcer on his backside. Every day I saw him, he was in the same position lying in bed and watching TV. He always had a smile on his face and he always greeted everyone warmly.

He told me something that again made me thankful for everything. This patient’s goal and what he wanted most? To go outside and feel the sun on his face. He told me that he had only been outside four times very briefly since November 2013.

I love the feeling of the warm sun after being inside an air conditioned room all day. I cannot imagine going months without seeing the sun or feeling and breathing in the air outside.

As busy as I am, I made time to see this patient and talk with him. My heart was touched and I was reminded again of how far I have come, how blessed I am and how grateful I should be for everything, especially the little things that may not seem important to some people.

I promised my patient that once he is strong enough and his wound heals up enough, I will take him outside. He promised me that once he gets out of the hospital, he will buy me a cheeseburger.