My 86-year-old mother, who values her privacy, would be upset to learn I am writing about her, but I suspect our situation is similar to that of many children trying to care for aging parents while living hundreds of miles away from home.
Last Friday, she developed painful leg swelling that turned out to be due to a blood clot. Our family arranged with her physician for visiting nurses to give her shots of Lovenox until she was anticoagulated on warfarin. Two days later, the visiting nurse contacted me that she seemed confused and out of breath; we arranged for an ambulance to take her to a nearby emergency room.
Within an hour, I received a phone call from the most pleasant emergency room physician with whom I have ever spoken. She explained my mother was experiencing a rapid heartbeat from atrial fibrillation. She outlined the tests she needed to run, estimated the time they would take and promised to call me back as soon as she knew the results. Her voice was professional and soothing. She spoke from experience and made my mother and me feel special.
She called me back hours before her estimate, reassured me that my mother had no evidence of a stroke, and arranged admission to a telemetry unit that would monitor her heart rate and rhythm continuously.
When I told her how easy it was to talk with her, she said she had been a heart surgeon until she began to experienceburnout after eight years in practice. Having spent a total of six months of my surgical residency on the cardio-thoracic surgical service, I could only imagine how difficult life had been for her. A thoracic surgeon I know wrote about surgery as an impairing experience in “Better Communication for Better Care.”
The happy ending for her and her patients is that this doctor has found her niche. She is the perfect cultural ambassador for patients and their families who come in through the ER.
When I mentor fellow physicians, I often hear them say it is easier to become a highly trained specialist than to figure out what to do with their lives after being in practice for several years (or decades). I could tell that my mother found the experience reassuring because, as she awaited transfer, she said to me, “Kenneth, I have just two words for you, ‘Don’t worry.'”
I welcome your input.
Ken is a practicing general surgeon/MBA and CEO ofHealthcareCollaboration.com, who divides his time between providing general surgical coverage and working with organizations that want to engage physicians to improve clinical and financial performance.