Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Connecting with Patients

Despite this being a surgery rotation, where you spend most of your time cutting into unconscious people, I'm getting to connect with quite a few patients in unexpected ways.

First off, yesterday during clinic hours I was interviewing a 34 year old Hispanic woman and getting information about her concerns about a benign lump in her breast. However, as we were talking about her allergies (raw onions) and I asked if anything else made her throat swell up like that, she said that the last couple weeks her throat has felt more swollen - like there was more fullness. She also felt like the back of her tongue was swelling more. Considering her race, age, gender, and that symptom, I thought I'd ask her a little bit about thyroid problems - turned out she was having cold intolerance lately, extreme fatigue, difficulty sleeping, palpitations/chest pain/anxiety, and her father and aunt on her father's side both have thyroid disorders. I asked her if she had talked to her primary care physician about this and she said no, that her PCP doesn't really talk to her about that much - that she's really rushed. I told her that I was thinking it could be a thyroid problem, that if I were her doctor I would want to check it out but that I would run it by the surgeon and see if he was willing to look into that. I mentioned it to the surgeon, as humbly as possible since I am terrified of sounding like a know-it-all medstudent who tries to diagnose a million things, and he immediately said "Sure, we can order a thyroid panel."

I don't know if it was the fact that I had actually made a physician-like decision in a patient's health, was suddenly afraid that I might be wrong or out of my mind, or just that the surgeon had actually taken my concerns seriously - but I was baffled for a moment. Of course, it could be that she is just tired from having two young children, maybe she is anxious from having a breast lump, maybe the chest pain is related to muscle pain in the breast, maybe the throat swelling is just an incidental finding, or maybe her cold intolerance is just in her head but it was exciting to actually have a tiny feeling of what it is like to be a physician.

In another situation, today after we finished what we thought was the last surgery for the day, it turned out that we were going to see an appendectomy patient. There was a 9 year old girl in the emergency department with acute appendicitis. Before I knew anything about the case, the surgeon told me to go to the ED to check out the patient and wait for him there. When I got there, I found an adorable teary eyed 9-year old Hispanic girl and her father, grandmother and uncle. Her father spoke pretty fluent English, but her grandmother and uncle both did not. Since they seemed to understand me when I spoke Spanish, I carried on a conversation with them, telling them a little bit about the surgery, that she would be put to sleep for it, that I would be there in the OR with her. The grandmother was keeping it together pretty well but when the little girl started to cry she started crying too, saying to me (in Spanish) "Since we cannot be there, can you please speak to her on the way to the room and in the room until she falls asleep so she isn't so afraid? Since you speak Spanish..." I almost started tearing up there and told her I would.

Since I was taking on the task of guiding this little girl to the OR, I took a moment there to talk to her a little, tried to get her mind off the impending operation by asking about brothers or sisters, about pets or anything. I remembered a story about Madeleine and how she actually had her appendix out and asked her if she knew the story and she said she did so we talked about that a little bit before the Anesthesiologist came. He was very nice as well and spoke very broken Spanish so that helped too.

When we got everything in the OR set up, we got the laparoscopic tools set up and the surgeon let me staple/cut the appendix out, as well as bag it in the collapse-able bag and pull it out through one of the tubes. He was getting a little antsy to get out of the OR near the end, probably since it was an unplanned surgery, so it was a little nerve-wracking but my fellow PA student reassured me that I did a great job and that it was really exciting to watch. Quite a fun filled past couple of days. We were going to discuss how I have been doing on this rotation, but he said we could do it tomorrow, so tomorrow morning I'm to remind him about that. No clue what he will say, but hopefully it'll be good. I'm glad my Spanish-speaking skills are coming in useful these days - now that I think of it, one of the other Spanish-speaking patients' daughter (middle aged) who was translating for me in the room on a clinic day complimented my Spanish skills in front of the surgeon. I wonder if he sent me to the room early today so that I could talk to the family with that in mind.

Either way, tomorrow is another clinic day, and hopefully constructive feedback from him about my performance, and maybe that woman got her thyroid function panel done for me to check on it. It'd be exciting if I successfully diagnosed someone with something that other doctors hadn't identified yet.

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