Ready is what I was.
A week of what should have been pure relaxation on the beaches of the Caribbean, was ruined by the torment of my special sixth sense. You see what I refer to as my sixth sense, is this twist deep in my stomach that always comes before something, usually bad, is going to happen. It came before I lost my first patient during clerkship. It came before my grandfather fell and broke his hip. It continues to come as a subconscious warning to brace myself.
We arrived at the airport, ready to head back home. While checking in, a passenger became unwell and was pulled to the side by the medical team. I watched as they took out a simple blood pressure cuff, “I haven’t had to use one of those since medical school, it’s all electronic now,” I commented to my mother. The twist in my stomach tightened.
The plane was boarded and without delay we were in the air. I settled into my seat and closed my eyes, sigh of relief, as I thought how my sixth sense lied to me the whole week. “May a doctor, nurse or paramedic please self-identify. We have a passenger who needs help.” In a split second my eyes were open, I was up and my mother was telling the passenger at the end of our aisle with a proud look on her face, “my daughter’s a doctor, she needs to go.”
Ready is what I was.
In medical school and residency, we are always taught to check our own pulse before heading into a code or a trauma, “you won’t be helpful to anyone if your heart rate is 150 and you can’t focus.” Yet in that instance, 36,000 feet in the air, all rules were left on the ground.
Everyone starred as I walked to the back of the plane, my heart and brain each running their own marathons. Two flight attendants surrounded a man and his wife preparing to place oxygen on him. I took 3 deep breaths and jumped into the basics. “When did the pain start? Can you describe the pain to me? Are you healthy? Do you take medication?” Realizing I didn’t have my stethoscope with me as I searched my neck in habit, I motioned to a flight attendant to get me any of the medical examination supplies they have. An old stethoscope and simple blood pressure cuff was handed to me, “why must I be a predictor of my own destiny?” I thought as I pulled the cuff over his arm.
As someone who is training to be a pediatrician, I had not managed an adult and yet alone a possible case of angina for over 2 years. My training and instinct said it was anxiety provoked chest pain, but I had to be safe. A discussion with the pilot and a doctor on the ground granted me permission, and before I knew it I was spraying Nitroglycerin under the man’s tongue and handing him Aspirin.
Ready is what I was not.
What followed was something my sixth sense never prepared me for. For the remaining two hours of the flight I was crouching in the aisle by the man’s seat, balancing through turbulence and engaging in a shared perspective on life. He was an immigrant, I was an immigrant. He had financial struggles and the pressure to provide for his family; the same challenges I witnessed my parents go through to give me a better life. “You know, where I come from, having a large property, a big house, a nice car…that’s what is important. That’s what tells others you are successful.” I smirked, “that’s what sadly is found to be important in most of the world, but trust me you are wealthy with the beautiful family you have beside you. Money is important, but health should always come first.”
Whether it was the nitroglycerin or aspirin, or rather the power of human connection, his pain had almost completely resolved as EMS whisked him away upon landing. I walked off the plane realizing once again the power of healing in shared thoughts and experiences, a realization sadly often lost in the long hours of residency. The twist in my stomach loosened and disappeared.
Ready to be more than a doctor is what I was and what I hope to always be.