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‘Good’ Patients, ‘Bad’ Patients

Wed, 04/17/2013 - 9:50am
Dhruv Khullar

He was the kind of patient I went to medical school for.

By the time I met him, he had had a rough go of it. After learning the previous year that he had lymphoma, he was fortunate enough to receive a bone marrow transplant — only to have his body promptly reject it. On three separate occasions in the past six months, he had deadly antibiotic-resistant bacteria coursing through his blood. He was just recovering from a bout of pneumonia when the meningitis struck.

Last night, his nurse saw him crying quietly in the corner of his hospital room. She asked our team to meet with him to evaluate whether antidepressant medications might be helpful to bolster his mood. When I entered his room, he greeted me with a smile — weak and pained in his emaciated body, but warm and genuine. I introduced myself as the medical student on the psychiatry consultation service and asked him how he was holding up.

“I’d be lying if I told you it hasn’t been tough,” he said. “I get down sometimes, but I have so, so many things going for me.”

We spoke at length about his family. His twin sons had just graduated from college and had initially planned to work for a nonprofit organization in Nepal, but opted to stay close to home given his medical condition. His daughter (“all grown up now!”) was being recruited to play softball at a local college. His wife had been tending to their small restaurant business during his long hospital stay.

“I consider myself to be an incredibly blessed person,” he said. “I know I’ll get through this.”

His body was sick, yes, but his spirit was unyielding.

At the end of our conversation, he expressed his deep gratitude for his caregivers over the past several months: “You guys have made this bearable. Thank you, doctor.”

I started to correct him — technically I wasn’t yet a doctor — but thought, ah, forget it. Our interaction had left me energized. The next evening I donned my white coat and strode into the bustling emergency room with renewed confidence, ready to heal.

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