A physician learns firsthand about the adverse aspects of the patient experience through her own catastrophic illness.
Detroit-based critical care physician Awdish began experiencing waves of abdominal pain and nausea while seven months pregnant with her first child and checked in at her workplace emergency department. Even before she was diagnosed and treated, she personally acknowledged the detachment patients often experience between themselves and the medical professionals charged with their clinical care, something she categorizes as an “unsettling, largely unspoken reality” in contemporary medicine. While she blames the conventional methodology of physician training, with its unwavering focus on disease diagnosis and distance to avoid burnout, she also recognizes that, as a doctor, she was in need of compassionate care training in order to connect with patients on more levels than directly pathological. “Despite completing my training,” she writes, “despite being surrounded by every form and severity of disease, I had yet to learn what it meant to be sick.” This, and further episodes of enlightenment, underpins the book’s core foundation. Awdish’s initially unknown malady eventually ballooned into an affliction of nightmarish proportions. Miraculously delivered from her deathbed, she survived internal bleeding, a stroke, liver tumors, and a heartbreaking miscarriage. Awdish also had to suffer the callous missteps and insensitive presuppositions made by hospital staff. Punctuated by descriptions of harrowing moments like waking up while on a mechanical respirator or developing hernias after surgeons applied quick stitches meant for an irremediable patient, the utter senselessness of illness reverberates throughout this carefully written chronicle of suffering and recovery. As the author returned to her livelihood as a humbled physician and grateful mother, she fully embodied and shared the knowledge that there could indeed be “reciprocity in empathy” in medicine.
A sobering, well-rendered reality check on the desperate need for advanced training on compassion-centric modes of patient care.