Bedside Lessons – 21 – Overcast Sky

Photo by Malte Schmidt on Unsplash

100 years ago, when I was still a trainee registrar, I asked myself, “what were we going to do?” I was about to admit the kind of patient that hospital doctors would be eager to transfer to the local hospice. I’d done exactly that in my previous hospital role, but I was then working in the local hospice and would have to deal with the situation myself.

She’d been nauseated for two weeks in hospital. They had tried everything and nothing had worked. The last weeks had been rough for her, and even in that short amount of time she had lost weight. Her appetite was suppressed to nothingness, as she felt too sick to eat anything. The mere sight of food put her off completely.

After I finished the admission I felt miserable myself, some of her misery had rubbed off on me. Was this transference, or counter-transference? Something about the situation that she was in made me feel similar to what she was going through herself. What to do? One option was to stop all treatments and start all over again. That’s what I did.

The next day I found myself leaving the miserable lady until the end of the ward round. I did not want to catch her misery again in the fear that I would spread it throughout our inpatient unit. I was trying to avoid her as yesterday’s experience had made me feel worse for wear. She had made my heart sink and so I put her off for as long as I could. Things hadn’t really changed much, and I had another dose of misery before lunch time.

By day three I felt bad for being unsupportive of the patient and I promised to myself that I would try harder to connect with her and decided to see her earlier in the ward round. It wasn’t her fault that she was so miserable, it was the illness making her so, and we hadn’t been able to control her symptoms. Walking into her room I braced myself for the tidal wave of negativity. I held onto the door jamb as I entered her room, expecting to be sucked into the black hole of her misery.

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