“Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, and he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because He cares for you.” 1 Peter 5: 6-7
Today, the roles of my everyday life was reversed for the first time. On this day, I became a patient.
To make matters more interesting, I was a patient in the exact same hospital in which I’m a medical student.
I was scheduled to have both upper and lower molar wisdom teeth extracted under general anesthesia, due to recurrent infections (occupational hazard of a healthcare professional). I waited three months for this moment, and the time has finally arrived.
What i didn’t know, however, was that I would be admitted into the day surgery unit, and be dressed in hospital gown. I thought I would be in and out as an outpatient.
As I sat in my hospital bed, being consulted by the dentist,doctor, nurse and anesthetist, I couldn’t help feeling vulnerable and thinking, “this is what it’s like to be a patient.”
Ironically enough, just the day before, whilst in my usual role as medical student, I visited the same ward I was in, to check up on gynecological patients,who’ve recently had surgery. The irony goes even further than that, as the day lolls along.
Most of the staff who looked after me somehow knew that I was a medical student…some of them referring to me as doctor. Everything they explained was followed by: “but you know that already.” They were very kind and extremely thorough. I was amazed, as this was my first time ever as an inpatient in a hospital.
One caveat of being a patient who is also a medical professional, is that you know too much. As I’ve never before been under general anesthesia in my life, I was rightfully very nervous. I have control issues, and for the life of me, it disturbed me to think that I would medically be induced to sleep, where whatever happened during that time, I would never know. Such a violation, I kept thinking. But more worrisome for me were the rare complications of general anesthesia that I remembered studying in Pharmacology. These complications include Malignant Hyperthermia, Locked-in Syndrome, Mendelson Syndrome, allergies to the anesthetic drugs, just to name a few.
Sure, I knew that without known family history of the Autosomal Dominant gene that predisposes to Malignant Hyperthermia ( pyrexia, convulsions, myoglobinuria, arrhythmias, tachycardia, etc),there is a very slim chance I would be affected. Also, all the other complications were rare as well. Still, I asked for an anti- anxiety medication to calm my nerves.
When I was finally rolled into the operating theater, the second coincidence was that my anesthetist for the day was also the anesthetist who I worked with just the day before, for a patient due to have a Dilation & Suction for retained products of conception. That patient hardly spoke English, so all the information had to be relaid in elementary, laymen words and very slowly.
However, for me, they hardly explained much at all. I am a medical student after all, and I just observed the exact same procedure the day before, I’m sure they thought. We used the time right before I was induced to sleep to joke around.
The irony of it all was not lost on me.
They were very gentle, and once the mask came over me, I was gone within a few seconds.
My dream was so sweet, but for the first time in my life, I couldn’t remember it. It was a very deep sleep that I most certainly needed due to my lack of sleep the night before.
All of a sudden, I felt a nurse shaking me awake, ” Your surgery is done. You can wake up now.”
I was so confused. What’s going on, I thought. Where am I?
Why am I in a hospital bed?
Then, the pain in my mouth hit me at the same time as the sensation that I couldn’t feel the left side of my lips. A huge gauze was imbedded in my mouth, and I reoriented myself. I’ll never forget those first few moments.
I can’t believe that I didn’t feel or recall a thing in that OR. I never even met the dentist who did the surgery (being a replacement for my original).
I continued spitting blood, which was hard to do due to my numb mouth.
I had to stay in hospital to monitor my blood pressure and heart, due to the proneness of hypotension after general anesthesia.
All the staff continued to be very kind and during recovery, I got on with the other patients in my bay, actually giving them medical advice and opinion about their various day surgeries.
It was a very pleasant experience, overall…one I shall never forget.
To boot, the pain in my mouth was very minimal and I was out and about in no time.
I truly believe having a pleasant experience in hospital encourages faster recovery due to the endorphins doing its work.
It should be mandatory for all up and coming medical professionals to be a patient for a day, in order that they may empathize more with the patients they will one day care for.
I know I will.