About three months ago, I got a call that changed my world. My mom was taken to the hospital with a heart rate pushing 200… crazy high! She spent the day seeing different specialists, and it was determined she had atrial fibrillation. After seeing a cardiac electrophysiologist, it was determined she should have a cardiac ablation procedure. As far as surgery goes, cardiac ablation is a relatively simple procedure. My mom had no other major health conditions, and all signs pointed to a quick hospital stay with a very fast recovery. However, my mom is not always the best when it comes to doctors (sorry to throw you under the bus), and she was more than a little nervous. I told her that if she could get the surgery scheduled for my spring break, I would fly back home to go to the hospital with her.
She got her surgery scheduled, and I flew back home for the week. The day of the surgery, despite my attempts to assure her she would be just fine, she was still nervous. We got to the hospital, checked in, and I waited in her room during pre-op. My mom had told me that she really liked her doctor and that she had told him all about me, so I was preparing myself for some classic mom embarrassment. What do you know…she didn’t disappoint. When Dr. W came in to check on her before surgery, she told him all about how I was doing great in medical school and then asked him if I could watch her surgery. I tried to explain earlier that family is not allowed to be present, but it took the doctor telling my mom that for her to let it go. However, instead of just politely telling her no, which would have been the correct response, Dr. W looked at me and said, “I have another surgery before your mom’s. Do you want to go grab some scrubs and come watch?”
Within 30 minutes, I was scrubbed and in an OR. Dr. W made sure I was standing where I could see, and he spent the next hour talking me through everything he was doing. This is a man who has gone through medical school, an internal medicine residency, a cardiology fellowship, and an additional cardiac electrophysiology fellowship. Despite having to perform multiple complex surgeries that day, he selflessly took the time to educate me. For example, I have seen maybe three EKGs in my entire life, and I had no idea what was going on at any point. However, during the surgery, Dr. W consistently stopped, explained the electrical waves, showed me where the arrhythmias were, showed me how to recognize them, and finally explained what he going to do to fix them. He asked me about my life, how medical school was going, and if I knew what I wanted to do. He gave me his card and told me that if I ever was back in Buffalo and wanted to do an elective, he loved having students. An hour before, he had no idea who I was, and now I was with him in surgery holding both his card and new knowledge of EKGs and cardiac surgery. As he was closing, he told me I should probably go check on my mom because she was next and the nurses were getting ready to prep her. I went back to her room expecting to tell her to chill and then let the nurses take her for her turn. Instead, Dr. W came into the room with me. He told me to get up next to her and then took both my mom’s hand and mine. He said he remembered that she wanted to pray before surgery and stood there with us as she prayed. Despite his own beliefs and opinions, he did what he knew she needed in that moment. He did not have to stop in or stand there with us, but he did anyway. For my mom and for me, he stayed and prayed for a successful procedure.
My mom’s arrhythmia couldn’t be corrected with her first procedure. When Dr. W came into her room to tell her, he took the time to explain everything, made sure that she understood, and reassured her that he was going to do his best to get her the best treatment plan possible. A few weeks later, my mom called me and told me that at her follow-up appointment with him, he asked how I was doing in school. In the span of a week, a stranger had become an honorary part of our family. We spent less than six hours with him, but in that time, he remembered that my mom mentioned she wanted to pray before surgery, spent his afternoon teaching a rather unprepared first-year student that he had absolutely no responsibility to, checked in with my mom about what was important to her, made her feel comfortable, and reassured her while explaining news she didn’t want to hear. I remember leaving the hospital thinking that he was the type of doctor I wanted to be. I want to be the doctor to remember what my patients tell me about their children. I want to remember when they ask me to pray no matter who it may be directed at. I want to invite others to learn, and I want to teach no matter how large the educational gap. No matter how busy, no matter the time constraints, I want to stop and explain what is wrong, and how I am going to try to fix it. I want to look for opportunities to ask others about their lives and encourage them, even if I will never get anything in return. I want to be like Dr. W.
A few weeks ago, my mom got a letter that Dr. W died in an accident. When she called to tell me, you would have thought he was an immediate family member. I couldn’t believe it. He was not only a talented and brilliant physician, but also he was a phenomenal person.
Dr. W encouraged where he could have delegated responsibility. He taught, spending his valuable time on a lowly first year when he could have gotten out of surgery a lot faster had he not. He remembered my mom’s request when he could have easily, and understandably, forgotten. He stopped and prayed, something my mom desired, when he could have easily avoided it. He asked about how I was doing weeks later when he could have saved that precious five minutes of appointment time for something far more important. He was a selfless, compassionate, and impeccable individual and never made excuses.
I, on the other hand, make a lot of excuses. I am busy, I don’t have time to stop and explain things, and I have a lot to keep track of. I don’t need to encourage that person, I don’t feel comfortable to step outside my beliefs, and I don’t want to participate in others’ religion if I don’t agree. I can’t, won’t, and simply don’t have the time to.
However, Dr. W made me want to change my excuses into opportunities to impact the lives of others around me. He made me realize the value of taking time to do the things that I once would have made excuses for.
We never know how much time we have. It is easy to imagine changing the world in large acts and grand ways, and we often put “make a difference” off to sometime in the future. However, in six hours, on a completely mundane day, doing the same surgery he had done hundreds of times, Dr. W not only changed how I want to practice medicine, but also changed my ideal of the type of person I want to be. In six hours of his normal world, by just doing his job and putting others’ needs before his own, he changed mine. I was shown what can happen when someone takes the time to remember, stops to teach, steps beyond what may be personally comfortable, and meets people wherever they are. No day is ever mundane, no day is ever wasted.
I wonder how many lives we could change each day by looking just a little past ourselves to see the person right in front of us.
I am looking forward to getting back to exciting. If this year is anything like the last, there will surely be a lot of excitement ahead. However, I don’t want to keep pushing through the mundane with the goal of getting back to the big moments. Looking back, you never know what your mundane moments may have meant to someone else.
Here’s to trying to see others, especially in the seemingly mundane.
I am originally from Buffalo, New York where I grew up eating real chicken wings, watching the Buffalo Bills, working as a barista and shoveling four feet of snow off my driveway each morning. I moved down south in 2013 to attend North Greenville University where I obtained a degree in biology with a focus on environmental studies. During my time at NGU I gained both a passion for health care and a love for the community of Greenville. So when I decided to attend medical school, it was no question that USCSOMG was my top choice. I am stoked to be beginning my journey to become a physician as a member of the Class of 2020.
Copyright 2014 USC School of Medicine Greenville