Commentary and analysis by author John Michael Chambers
The following post, “My Best Day in Medicine”, was written by my good friend, the founder of PollMole, Dr. Richard Davis. I also would like to take this opportunity and invite you to read a nine part series, (eye opening insights into “Big Pharma”), also authored by Dr. Richard Davis, posted here on my site titled The Things Your Doctor Won’t Tell You.
My Best Day in Medicine
With an inch of new slush, it was a cold and damp evening in Richmond, that eventful day in 1980. I was like all of the other 4th year MCV students rotating through the VA, full of naiveite, piss and vinegar, preparing to launch a career of healing the sick and stamping out disease. Then, I was totally unaware of the Pharmaceutical Industrial Complex, of the power of the FDA, of medical politics, and all of the other issues swirling in my periphery, that I would learn to confront during my 36 years of practice.
In the wee hours of the morning my pager went off summoning me to the ER to admit an incoming patient. When I arrived, I was greeted with a stench seldom experienced outside the real battlefields where our veterans served. An aide led me to a gurney where I bore witness to a horror few people will ever see. Behind the massive lice-filled beard and matted hair complex, the yellow, curled nails – untrimmed for an eternity, a barrier of maggot filled lesions, of unwashed, unkept skin embedded in a shredded blanket, was 65 pounds of twisted anatomy. It was the barely discernable living remains of a half-frozen human being.
One of his legs had been replaced at the knee with a makeshift bandage of McDonald’s napkins that oozed green pseudomonas pus. I could go on, but you get the picture.
Since no one in the ER would go near him, I ordered him to the ER’s Hubbard tank that had been purloined from a burn unit somewhere for this express purpose. Two hours later, the remnants of man emerged. Cachexic, semiconscious, and unidentified, he lay before me, a medical train wreck, a human disaster. His scarred veins long ago collapsed from innumerable needles, were useless. I asked a resident to place a central line for labs. I went to attend rounds.
The next day, Mr. Doe’s numbers began to trickle in. He was in the ER still, at the end of the hall with shallow gurgling that I interpreted as breathing. The ICU would not take him due to the infectious risk. His labs were the worst I had ever seen. My attending had written DNR on his chart. There was nothing to be done but wait.
I went to his bedside and took him by the wrist to take his pulse. He moaned feebly and with whatever strength he could muster, imperceptibly closed his hand on mine as if to say thank you, don’t leave just yet. So, I just stood there, not knowing what else to do but hold his hand. A few minutes later he was gone. As I was turning away I realized that although nothing medical could be done for him, I had given him something that he had craved for years of untold abuse and neglect. I had treated him with respect, dignity and compassion.
Although I will never know why, at the end of my shift that day, before going home to collapse, I went to the morgue – I guess to say goodbye. I had never had anyone die in my arms before.
No autopsy had been performed, but on the sheet was an open envelope. It contained a Purple Heart and Bronze Star. I have no idea where they had been discovered or how they got there. I just knew that at one time before the ravages of war and half a lifetime of PTSD, Mr. Doe had been a young man full of piss and vinegar, probably not too much different than me.
The images of that day have never left me, because I learned the two most valuable lessons of my life:
- There but for the ‘Grace of God’ go I, and
- It is far better to be kind than right…
Richard Davis, MD Lt. Cmdr., USN Ret. June 16, 2017