My Experience as a Patient

Resident & Staff Physician®, February 2008 Vol 54 No 2, Volume 0, Issue 0

Bhanu Wunnava, MD, Resident, Family Medicine Program, Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center, Monroe, La

Life is full of surprises sometimes good and sometimes bad. Good encounters are enjoyable; however, it is the bad experiences or circumstances that usually help a person to grow and better understand the complexities of life. Such experiences, if properly analyzed, can give new wisdom, understanding, faith, and appreciation of one's surrounding support system. It is for this reason that I would like to share my recent experience as a patient.

I was recently hospitalized because of excruciating abdominal pain, which turned out to be a hernia that needed to be surgically repaired. Before this episode, I had never been hospitalized. Being a patient was a different experience altogether for me. To play the role of a patient is strange and humbling for a doctor.

I have seen thousands of patients moaning and groaning in pain in my clinical experience, but I could only sympathize with their pain and suffering. I could never empathize or identify completely with their anguish and distress. Many of them would request more and more pain medication, and even increased frequency of doses, as they were unable to tolerate the pain. Before my hospitalization I had always thought that such patients were abusing the pain medications unreasonably and unnecessarily.

However, when the tables were turned on me during my hospital stay, I found myself behaving in the same way. I was constantly pressing the button to call the nurse so that I could get additional pain medication more frequently, because I couldn't bear the pain after my surgery. While doing so, it never crossed my mind that the nurse would think that I, too, was trying to abuse the pain medications.

My hospitalization also taught me the importance of family support and friends. During my practice, I have time and again seen family and friends visiting my patients, and many times I felt it cumbersome to repeat the prognosis of the patient to each visitor. In the past, I never realized the mental and even physical support it provided to the patient. But when I was the patient, my wife, my family, colleagues, and friends were similarly eager for news of my condition. It was comforting and healing beyond words to be taken care of, cared for, and cared about by my loved ones. It was such a wonderful feeling to know how much they were all concerned about me. Moreover, this made me remember my patients who walked through the hospital doors in pain by themselves or who lay in bed for days with no visitors. From now on, I will be sure to give a few extra words of consolation and support, and a few extra minutes of my time to such patients during my practice.

After 36 hours of postsurgery hospital stay I was back on my regular diet, and the doctor on call was supposed to make rounds that evening. I was overjoyed at the prospect that I might be discharged that evening. I was so impatient to go home, even though I was still in pain.

I recall that while working as a resident, I had often been tied up in my clinic and thus had been late to get to my patients' rooms to discharge them. I never realized how fervently patients wait to hear from their doctor that everything looks good and they can be discharged. The waiting is never ending for a patient. Now, playing the role of the patient, I had to go through the same experience.

As it turned out, my doctor was called to perform emergency surgery on another patient that evening, thus delaying my discharge by a couple of hours. I never realized that every minute of the wait feels like an hour. Those 2 hours seemed like 20 hours for me. And as I lay there waiting for my discharge, I vowed to myself that in the future, I would try my best to minimize the waiting time for my patients.

The entire experience of being a patient in the hospital taught me a lot as a doctor, as well as a human being. It taught me to be a more caring, understanding, and compassionate person not just to my patients but also to others in my day-to-day activities. It gave me the strength to face the unexpected, and often agonizing, battles life brings. This incident helped me to learn humility, empathy, and faith.