When your heart stopped, I was surrounded by people who did not know you. People who would not recognize your tired eyes, your weakened smile, the sheepish facial expressions that always accompanied your soft-spoken words. I had already started a new rotation at another hospital and was no longer a part of your care team, though I checked in periodically to see how you were doing.
When I received the news, there was no space to process you. I was standing in a crowd of white coats, and I was utterly alone. These were not the white coats who had spent morning after morning with you, checking in to see if your pain had lessened, if you were feeling more upbeat. These were not the white coats who had pored over each lab, each scan, each part of your history in the hopes of unearthing a clue we had previously missed, of uncovering a piece of the puzzle that would explain what brought you to us a few weeks earlier.
You were the first patient I lost, and as I began to round on a patient list that did not include you, with a team that would never know you, I could not tear my mind away from the thought that we had failed you. Yours was a case that we did not solve until it was too late, a puzzle we could not fit together before the pieces disintegrated beneath our fingertips. There were answers; we just did not find them in time, and for that, I am terribly sorry.
When I was a child and my mother felt that I was being too hard on myself, she would tell me to remember that if I did my best, if I tried my hardest, that would always be good enough. But as I stood in that circle of white coats who were just trying to do their best for their patients—as I stood there and thought of you—I could not help but feel that those were merely words. Words we use to comfort ourselves when in fact we should have done better. Because sometimes, our best may not be good enough.
For you, it was not enough.
New York, New York