Red Scarf

Jimmy Yan, Meds 2015

You, with the red scarf, from the ICU unit where your husband, MG was my patient, and you were there tending to him, day in and day out.

MG was here following a head on motor vehicle collision. I remember, because I was there, that Sunday afternoon a week ago, going through my rotation of emergency medicine when the trauma team barrelled through the halls with Mr. G on that stretcher. You showed up maybe forty minutes later, rushing in as soon as you heard the news. You probably didn’t recognize me there, the face mask and bouffant I wore effectively made me another faceless personnel in the background. But I remember you, you were still wearing that bright red scarf.

Fast forward to the ICU and I’m with a new team, but assigned to manage M as one of the patients on my list. I had spent a few days following his status, trying to communicate with him as he was being weaned off ventilation, and giving you or your daughter updates on the treatment plans. But to be honest, I was not really that responsible for his care. The nurses and respiratory therapists were the real stars, ensuring proper oxygen saturation, or pain medication. I was a glorified lackey.

Yet you still approached me that one afternoon to say how happy you were for the care and time I gave to M. I think I mumbled back something along the lines of, “Well, we’re here to help, after all.” In reality, I was feeling a little guilty because I think the only reason you noticed me giving so much time to him is because, as a medical student, I’m really slow with what I do.

I didn’t let you know the truth at the time.

You weren’t finished. “Thank you for making the effort to explain how everything is going on in a way we can understand. No one else has, you have really good bedside manner.”

At the time, that was the confidence boost I needed. ICU medicine is complicated and I felt completely lost through that first whole week. However, hearing that made me feel that at least somehow I was making an impact, in some small way I mattered as part of the team. Later in the day I realized the origins behind that statement.

Again it wasn’t because I had purposely made the effort to translate my words into layman’s language as I talked. I’m just closer to you and your husband in terms of medical understanding than I am to the attendings, fellows, nurses, and Respiratory Therapists. I haven’t become integrated into the work place or have 10 to 20+ years of working experience.

I’m still fresh. I’m not completely sucked in. Yet.

In medical school, we joke a lot about being trapped in the “bubble of medical school.” Not having time for old friends, or making new connections in other lines of work. Even our “interprofessional events” becoming simply mixers for nurses, doctors, dentists, and other health care related professions. The sad reality is that, without conscious effort, this becomes the truth. It’s not intentionally that any doctors end up disconnected from the people that become their patients, but when one works all day in the hospital, eats in the hospital, friends are in the hospital, and sometimes stay overnight in the hospital…

What was that old phrase again? You are the company that you keep.

I’m only just starting my clerkship, so I’m not sure exactly what the solution is going to be. All part of the process of being a student I guess. But the words you chose to say could not have been better timed. I know now to not worry about being faster to be better, or that flaunting medical jargon doesn’t necessarily make my explanations any clearer for patients. I know that I want to make sure that I don’t get swept up by the medical lifestyle whirlwind, and even though I’m barraged with the message that I need to be of a higher standard as a physician in the future, not become out of touch.

Although I can’t say your real name, and you may not have recognized the importance of the compliment you said in passing, I think I owe you something.

Woman in the red scarf: Thank you.