Hospital Rotations Lesson 3: A Poker Face

Lesson 1: Alphabet Soup
Lesson 2: The Humility Pill
Lesson 3: A Poker Face
I think I could use some tips from Lady Gaga.  Here's the story.
Last week I saw a patient with both liver and kidney failure; he had been in the hospital for over a month before transferring to my floor.  I knew something was terribly wrong when I stepped into his room and noticed an eerie yellow glow.  I soon realized it was the sheen of his severely jaundiced skin reflecting off the white bedsheets and absorbing into the white painted walls.  Blinding.  (Jaundice, a symptom of excess bilirubin, gives body tissues a yellow tint and usually indicates liver disease.) Suddenly the man looked up at me, and his voiceless mouth started to speak (he couldn't talk because of a tracheotomy).  I'll never forget his eyes.  I saw no white, only two black pupils on balls of blood red, unblinking saucers of pain boring into my own paralyzed profile.  I attempted my best poker face, however I couldn't maintain eye contact, and I pretended to fiddle with his IV before stumbling out of the room, deeply shaken.  Those red eyes have been on my mind ever since.

What is your strategy for death?  What do you say when it looks you in the face?  My dad reassures me that I'll soon get used to such hospital sights, a thought equally disturbing.

On that sober note, The End (for now)!  Thanks for reading my three-post series about my thoughts on clinical rotations thus far.  There are many more lessons to share!  Yesterday I was overwhelmed to receive all the encouraging comments, and I am grateful for your kind words and advice to me.

With thanks from the bottom of my heart,


Anonymous said...

One of the reasons I personally decided to steer away from clinical. Some degree of desensitization is necessary to work in that environment... but I hated the idea of being desensitized myself. My renal rotation, while I also found it the most interesting, was also the one I found the most depressing.

Emily said...

Maybe it's not that you get "used to it" (meaning desensitized) but that you feel more comfortable around people who are facing death. I always tried to see my patients as just people like anyone else...and imagine how scary it must be for them to be in the hospital. If you can be an encouragement or a smiling face to them, I'm sure they would really appreciate it! I think it's completely normal to be shaken, but you did a great job with your poker worries, you'll feel more relaxed around critically ill patients in no time!

MelindaRD said...

Along those lines, I once fed a man breakfast (when working in the diet office) who was not only severely jaundiced, but also already dead! It will get easier to deal with these situations, but it will never go away all together. It can be tough to work in this setting, but there is a great job in helping people.

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Disclaimer. I am not a Registered Dietitian yet. I provide nutrition information intended for the general public, not for the treatment of a specific medical condition. I try to use scientific research and reliable sources when forming my opinions and messages.
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