Yet One More Challenge
Sandeep Sachdeva, MD, hospitalist at Swedish Medical Center; lead hospitalist, Swedish Medical Center’s Stroke Program; and clinical instructor, University of Washington, Seattle.
The patient I was most impressed by was a lady who came into the hospital about a year ago. I think she was in her mid 60s and had been blind and deaf from birth. She had obviously faced huge challenges and was living alone.
She had a very good support system: a non-governmental organization (NGO) here that provides close support for people in this type of situation. Even though she didn’t have any family support, these volunteers from the NGO would come out to make sure she was doing OK.
As I recall, she had tripped over something and had fallen and broken her hip, and she was admitted to the hospital for hip surgery. Just looking after her was a tremendous learning experience for me: She couldn’t see me; she couldn’t hear me; and the only way we could communicate was through a sign language interpreter, where she had to feel the hands of the person doing sign language. She was very involved in her own care; she would ask questions, and there was no dearth of communication.
It was fascinating to deal with this lady who is—in essence—in a different universe with no sound and no sight, and who was facing the challenge of being in the hospital and recovering from her surgery. It felt very satisfying to look after her and to be inspired by her—a patient who was able to overcome yet another challenge when she is already disadvantaged. She did very well, and I believe she went home. I could still feel that she was trying to be independent and be the take-charge person that she had always been.
Patient in a Pickle
Eric Kupersmith, MD, assistant professor of medicine and director of the Hospitalist Program at Cooper Hospital, Camden, N.J. Dr. Kupersmith has plenty of patients he’ll never forget. Here are the stories of few.
There was a patient who would get admitted every month with congestive heart failure. He would develop pulmonary edema as an acute event like clockwork, and no one could figure out what was causing this. The seventh consecutive time, he was placed on my service. We eventually discovered that each month he would buy a jar of pickles and eat the whole jar. Then—at the end of the month when he finished the pickles—he would drink the entire jar full of juice.
The salt in the pickle juice caused the acute pulmonary edema, but until this piece of history was taken no one could pin down the problem. It really was a medical mystery. Figuring it out prevented his readmissions and is just the kind of thing that represents how hospitalists sometimes have to serve as diagnostic detectives.
You and Who Else?
An old woman was brought in by someone and was admitted to my service. When I entered the room, the daughter who lives [with] and cares for her said, “I know she has cancer, I know she’s demented, I think it is time to let her go. I live with her. I’m her power of attorney. There’s no document, but I’m her only daughter.”
What do I do? I figure hospice care; she’s dying in the hospital. I don’t cure her pneumonia. I let her go, and—three days later [after she had died]—I get a phone call from her two sons.
They say, “Hi Doctor, we brought our mother in. What’s the plan of care?” It turns out there was no power of attorney. The daughter did live with the patient, but apparently the daughter was mad at her two brothers, so she didn’t tell me the whole story. The sons threatened me—not with malpractice—but with going to tell the district attorney that I committed murder. And one of the sons mentioned murdering me.