I don’t remember them because their case was sad, though it was. Nor do I remember them because their case was complex or unique. I remember them because they were a DJ even though they were well beyond middle age. Who knew you could be a DJ when you were that old? Well, I learned after meeting them that you could be.
I learned of their DJ career when I met them briefly after their first stroke. The stroke was thrombotic (caused by a clot that blocked a blood vessel in the brain). Their balance was severely affected, but they were doing well, despite the stroke. There was no way to predict if they’d get their coordination back, but there was hope that they would recover if they made it past the first couple of days after their first stroke without another stroke. There’s the highest risk of another stroke in the days following a stroke.
When I saw them days later, they were not well. Their stroke had converted from thrombotic to hemorrhagic (caused by bleeding in the brain) and they could no longer speak, had limited movement, and were unaware of the world. I was struck by their deterioration. Lost in my reflection on how much the patient had changed and who they were before their brain filled with blood, I included the fact that they were a DJ in my report to the physician supervising me. I think the physician was looking for a focused medical history, but I slipped in the patient’s profession anyway. The physician teaching me paused and then said, “It’s good to get to know something about your patients as people.” It was the physician’s way of giving me positive feedback, but I found myself thinking, that would seem to go without saying.
As I continue my training, I’ve come to understand why this physician pointed out the importance of knowing patients as people: It’s easy to only ask questions related to diagnosis when you’re crunched for time and are actively thinking about what next tests, exams, medications, and treatments you should do to help the patient with their medical concern. Which is to say, the more responsibilities I have as an aspiring physician, the harder it becomes to emphasize getting to know patients beyond their medical conditions.
And, yet, when I do and can learn a tidbit about people’s lives (pets, careers, grandchildren, or whatever they bring up about their life), I’m always grateful I did. Grateful because it helps me remember each patient’s story and because it reminds me why I do medicine in the first place – to help people.
Medicine is awesome because uncovering diseases and making treatment plans involves solving complex puzzles. But the coolness of solving medical challenges is not enough to get me through all the terrible aspects of working in healthcare. My patients do keep me coming back even after the worst days on the job. Even though our interactions are brief, my patients and I have the potential to learn and achieve so much together. And, without a doubt, every patient is a person with an amazing story that I’m excited to hear a tiny bit about.
The “seasoned” DJ will never be a DJ again. This makes me even more glad that my last memory of them included them as a DJ, not just an ICU (intensive care unit) patient with a likely life-ending stroke. I think they’d have preferred to be remembered as a DJ (something they were very proud of) rather than a sick person. I know, if I were dying in the hospital, I’d want the last people to see me to know something about who I had been before I got sick.