Sharing personal experiences of giving and receiving health care
All too often in my forty years of practicing medicine, I’ve seen patients die hard, lonely deaths—lying on a stretcher under the emergency department’s glaring lights, or all alone in an ICU bed.
In extreme situations, the patient is covered in medical equipment: a breathing tube in the mouth, defibrillator pads on the chest, monitor leads on the torso, IV lines dangling from the neck and arms. When family members finally enter the room, it’s heart-wrenching to see them weep over their loved one, to whom they never got to say goodbye.
But it doesn’t always happen this way.
The dank, loamy smell fills my nostrils. I turn my head, but cannot escape the odor. It emanates from me, this nauseating scent of sickness and neglect.
It is five days since the surgery, five days since my right breast and multiple lymph nodes were removed. I cannot bathe or shower.
After I retired, my wife and I moved, giving me a reason to go through my old files. I found the notes from this story scribbled on some scrap paper that used to be everywhere in our offices. “Keep good notes,” someone once advised me. These are good notes and a good story.
Thirty-five years ago I was on the faculty at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill and spent a lot of time traveling around the state.
Every month readers tell their stories — in 40 to 400 words — on a different healthcare theme.
Stories by those whose faces and perspectives are underrepresented in media and in the health professions.
In the spring of 2021, as a third-year medical student in the midst of the pandemic, I worked on a research thesis while continuing to build my clinical skills. Every other week, I would visit the endocrinology clinic and see patients with my research mentor.
It was a day like any other at the clinic. Wearing the usual blue surgical face mask, I knocked on the exam-room door, and asked permission to enter. After sanitizing my hands, I began my introductory spiel while heading to the computer. Sitting down, I glanced at my patient, Jim—a man in his fifties, sitting across from me.
“You know how empowering it was for me to walk out into the ocean without my shirt on?” asked my twenty-four-year-old cousin Neil after we’d returned from a day of swimming and sunning at the beach.
For me, it had been a rare and welcome break from my coursework in medical school, where I had just started my fourth year.
It was the first time I had worn a bikini in public after years of veiling myself in shirts and wetsuits.
My interest in women’s health began when, in high school, I became aware of the ongoing genocide in Darfur. Learning about that conflict’s impact on women in terms of sexual trauma and maternal mortality opened my eyes to the depths of inequality that women face in the Global South. This, combined with the fact that I’m a first-generation Nigerian-American, led me to pursue a career in obstetrics and gynecology, with a global-health focus.
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The doctors will visit you
at your hospital bed because
that is what they do.
When they ask you if it hurts here,
say Yes it hurts here.