"EVERY PATIENT MAY NOT BE 'YOUR FAVORITE', BUT EVERY PATIENT IS SOMEBODY'S FAVORITE'."
All women in surgery, whether it was during training, or part of their current scope of practice have lost life. They say that all people in healthcare have that 'one patient' that they've lost that they'll always remember - and I would say that's absolutely true. However, it doesn't mean that some part of us doesn't feel the pain of every patient we lose.
Losing Shapes Who We Are
While losing patients is unfortunately a reality of working in acute, high-stakes healthcare, it should never be viewed as 'part of the job'. There is absolutely a need to pull yourself together and stay strong as all of your patients depend on you after you've lost life. As I've said, I am a 'feeler', and being numb is the exact opposite of my disposition in life - it's not where I want to be in my personal life; it's not where I want to be in my professional life.
In the form that people fill out for their Instagram features, I ask a couple of very specific questions, one of them is, "what is the most devastating thing you've seen in the Operating Room, and how did it affect you?". I don't ask that question because I take pleasure in hearing sad stories. I ask that question because I want to hear women talk about that 'one patient' that they'll remember forever.
Objectivity vs. Objectifying
Objectivity is such an important part of being a great surgical practitioner (regardless of role) - that's specifically why there are rules in-place to ensure people don't get caught in situations where their judgment might be impaired by other factors (e.g., operating on a family member). While OBJECTIVITY is key, OBJECTIFYING people is not - one relates to judgment while the other relates to compassion. We call them 'cases', but I hope we remember they're 'people'.
If you had to choose between two surgeons - one being the most talented, skilled and brilliant mind with a horrible sense of compassion with the other being the most compassionate person with mediocre skills, there is no question you'd choose the former. My hope for the progression of women in surgery is that patients don't have to make that choice. Women bring skills and instincts to the table (no pun intended) that have a greater chance of creating a holistic practitioner who excels at both skill and compassion - it's part of our instincts and maternal nature and allowing the 'old guard' to try and beat that out of us not only unfortunate, it's sad.
Change starts with us
There is a lot about surgical culture that absolutely needs to change and as a recent feature of mine said, 'change starts with us'. So I say that losing should never be just another part of living - it should be something that affects us each-and-every-time it happens. Not every patient that passes will be 'your favorite', but never forget that every patient you lose was 'somebody's favorite'.
Watching the surgical team furiously try to resuscitate my sister by massaging her heart for over 50-minutes was a horrible sight, and while she may not have been 'a favorite' for anybody in that room, she was 'my favorite'. And I will remember that - today, tomorrow...forever. I hope that you remember that too because it makes all the difference even when the best thing in life (hope) is nothing more than an illusion.