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Posted by Ishani Ganguli December 23, 2011 07:00 AM
On Monday evening of last week, my mother found my father fallen and bleeding at the foot of the stairs in their Princeton, New Jersey home. She called 911, then me.
I’ve heard that doctors shouldn’t treat their family members because it is so hard to think rationally about those we love. I quickly found this to be true.
My father was lucky, I learned through frequent phone calls and eventually in person. He had become dizzy while sitting in his second floor office, walked to the top of the staircase to call for help, and blacked out. In the emergency department, they found that the only injuries from his descent were a broken nose and some cuts on his face.
When he was hospitalized to investigate the cause of his fainting episode, the hospital setting was familiar to me but my role in it was not.
I thought about how I’d view my father if I were the intern admitting him. I would have found his case to be fairly run of the mill, not as serious or even as interesting as many of the patient cases we get. I would have been annoyed at yet another family member calling me up to ask endless questions.
But now I was seeing the patient’s perspective. Doctors’ appearances felt as rare as punctuation marks in the interminable sentence of the hospital stay. Any medical issue affecting my father was by definition a serious one. The risk of injecting dye into his heart’s blood vessels was minimal, yes, but the fact that the risk existed was bad enough. At the same time, I had enough medical knowledge to be restless. How could I put it to use?
I tried to be a patient advocate by helping to crosscheck his medication lists. When diagnostic tests revealed severe narrowing of one of his coronary arteries, I asked his transport team to let me ride in the ambulance with him during his transfer to Philadelphia.
I tried to be a translator, explaining medical jargon to my family, at times making excuses for the incomprehensible health care system of which I’d grown tolerant. Don’t expect Dad to get sleep in the hospital, I explained to my brother. Yes, I told my mother, it seems inhumane to keep my father from eating and drinking for nearly a day as he waits for his procedure, but (as if this were any consolation) we do this to patients all the time.
In those days I spent with my family, I hope that my medical background made me somewhat helpful. I also hope that I continue to remember not only how to be a daughter who is a doctor, but also a doctor who is a daughter.
My father is back at home now, thankfully. He’s resting up for my wedding in two weeks, per his doctor daughter’s orders.
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About the authorIshani Ganguli, MD, is a journalist and a second-year resident physician in internal medicine/primary care at Massachusetts General Hospital. She studied biochemistry and Spanish at Harvard College and received her More »
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