“Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.”~Colossians 4:6
In the practice of anesthesia, our motto is vigilance, and our promise to each patient is to do no harm. We are the eyes, ears, and mouthpiece for our patients in the operating room. As such, we strive to gather information in the preoperative interview necessary to keep them safe and comfortable.
Our window of opportunity for conversation and influence is brief. With the pressure of productivity, EMR charting, and the plethora of verification steps, it is easy to “just do the interview.” There are times when I come to work with personal distractions or burdens, but, invariably, my perspective is reset when confronted with the gravity or permanence of my patients’ struggles. Each story is as unique as the coping mechanism of the patient.
During my internship, I had the opportunity to interview and hear the story of a patient who had recovered from Guillain-Barre symdrome. When he had the disease, his motor symptoms degenerated rapidly to the point of his being able to only blink “yes” or “no” in reply to questions. His being “locked in” was riveting and terrifying. Yet, it was one small frustration that caught my attention. He told of an agonizing few hours when, after being turned, he was lying on his bent ear, but unable to communicate his pain.
Fast forward to a day and a patient’s surgery that I do not remember. However, I vividly recall standing at the bedside of Mr. Kamran for an interview. This exchange would not be the three-minute chat I could do in my sleep. Sitting next to him was a friend, an interpreter who was his voice actually. As a result of his neurologic disease, Mr. Kamran was “locked in,” meaning he was able to experience life with all of his senses, except touch, and with none of his motor skills, except blinking.
He had devised a shorthand system, whereby the alphabet was divided into quarters, allowing for quicker spelling via his blinks. Communication would have been impossible without his interpreter. Far from being frustrated, angry, or dour, Mr. Kamran was full of grace, gratitude, and humor.
Our interview was far too short, and I went to the OR feeling humiliated for ever having a moment of self-pity. Truly he was an example of Christ, witnessing to me about grace and hope.
Grant me a clear mind and physical strength for the day/night, keep my patients safe, and may I always give You the glory. Amen.
-Joyce Hoatson, LLUSM class of 1980-B, has been an anesthesiologist at Florida Hospital for over 25 years.