At 3am last Saturday, I was feverishly devouring medical journal articles on subarachnoid hemorrhages (which I now know are a type of stroke caused by bleeding into the space surrounding the brain), trying to determine just how much I needed to be panicking about the health of a loved one. With every text message update from the rural hospital he unexpectedly found himself in, which lacked both a neurology department and sufficient diagnostic testing equipment, my fears grew in intensity.
As I considered the situation, I found myself revisiting a moment a few weeks back, watching my youngest sister graduate from the University of Washington Medical School. The ceremony’s commencement speaker shared lessons from her career as a doctor and the difference between the art and the science of medicine. She also warned these newly-minted MDs that their pager will be summoning them at inconvenient times—times when they are busy, tired, or trying to enjoy a life outside of medicine—but it is the biggest honor and responsibility of a doctor’s life to be the one that’s called in those moments when a patient is in need.
That comment suddenly holds much more weight for me. With this patient’s life on the line, not just one, but a team of doctors across two countries and several hundred miles answered that page and came running to provide exactly the care he needed, exactly when he needed it.
In our work at CCMU, we talk a lot about what we want from our health care providers: we want them to coordinate care, address the social factors affecting patients’ health, order less unnecessary tests, distribute themselves most effectively around the state, speak multiple languages and provide culturally-competent care, stay current on all the latest advances in medicine and technology, and much more. It’s important to remember that above all else, sometimes we just want them to answer the call and save a life.
So thank you, health care providers, for giving up your weekends, your children’s birthday parties, and your family dinners to be on call. Thank you for doing your best to give every patient your full attention and best effort. Thank you for making space for our vulnerability, fear, and frustrations as we navigate these very personal health issues, and for gently but honestly communicating with us about our situation. Thank you for doing everything you can to save our life and the lives of our loved ones, even if it doesn’t always work out.
This time though, those life-saving efforts gave us a happy ending. Seventy-two hours after his diagnosis, the patient was being discharged with a miraculously-clean bill of health.
I still want all those other things for patients and for our health system. I think most providers want to be able to do and be all those things for their patients, too, but there are limits to what they can accomplish given the multitude of demands on their time and ability. As Colorado works to reform the way we deliver and pay for health care, we need to keep in mind that providers have needs, too. So, CCMU will continue to strive towards a system that meets the needs of providers in the same way we work on behalf of patients. It’s the least we can do to say thanks.