I have a habit (don’t we all?) of walking around the ER (especially in the trauma bay) to see what’s happening with patients. It’s all the rubbernecking goodness without wasting any gasoline. You see someone with some big gashes in his forearm, or an arm that’s totally deformed, and you think to yourself, “Man, that must hurt like hell. That sucks. Glad that’s not me.”
This same sick curiosity happened last week with a jaundiced patient. This guy was the brightest yellow I’ve ever seen in my life. The whites of his eyes were fluorescent-highlighter yellow. I had just caught him out of the corner of my eye, and the “Oh man, that really sucks” thoughts came flowing right in.
But then I did a double-take–I knew the guy. He was actually one of my favorite patients that I had taken care of back in February. And I felt really sick for giving him such a cursory thought–and one of pity at that. I went over and we talked for a few minutes–that I was sorry to bump into him in such circumstances, how his kids were doing, how he was feeling.
And then the conversation quickly went from superficial to serious, confiding in me that he didn’t want to be one of those poor guys that dies on the transplant list. His eyes filled with tears, and a lump grew in the back of my throat. I touched his forearm, and said I didn’t want that to happen, either. Right after that the transporter came in to take him to his bed in the hospital, and I said goodbye for the time being.
While I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to get the rubbernecking thoughts from my head, I know I’ll be less superficial with their impact–it’s not just that an arm is broken–it’s that the person’s arm is broken.