Last week I started to have patient dreams. They normally fill some sort of supportive role–rarely are they the main characters–but they’re generally lacking their disease or IV poles. I’d like to interpret this as “seeing the patient as the person, not the diagnosis,” but I’m not totally convinced.
At first this kind of freaked me out: I was diving too far down the rabbit hole, or obsessing too much, but I’ve come to the realization that I generally have dreams involving the people I spend time with or think about. And since I spend a pretty sizeable amount of time at a patient’s bedside, talking to them, and then talking about them to my team, it’s no wonder they’ve invaded my dreams.
I’m also feeling really attached to my patients, and I wonder both if this will fade with time, and if they feel the same way. On my service a couple of patients were “mine;” I saw them each morning and afternoon, and reported about them to the rest of my team on rounds. I’d start to get to know them, their personalities, and little tidbits about their personal lives, and I looked forward to greeting them each morning, watching them progress from very serious surgeries to almost full recovery. When one patient in particular was discharged from the hospital on a day I was off, I was a little offended. “What, he didn’t even say goodbye?” I thought to myself, and then had to remember that I was probably not at the top of his list of importance; he’d been in the hospital 12 days and couldn’t wait to leave.
I guess it requires me to add another type of relationship to my list now: patients. You expect certain things from different types of relationships: brothers are different than parents are different than friends are different than co-workers are different than significant others are different from teachers. I guess I was still applying the “friend” mentality to my patients, and expecting them to say goodbye when they left.
The patient relationship is a fine line, and is sometimes two things at once. On one hand, you want to be objective: the scientific, square medical doctor that provides advice and data without emotion or attachment to get in the way of the best treatment. But if you remain in that camp, you miss out on the reason you became a doctor: because you truly care about people, want to help them, want to do what’s best for them. Just like you do for your loved ones.