Snow Day

I woke up to a blanket of white covering the ground. Unlike in childhood, this was not met with excited anticipation. Forced to skip my morning coffee, I layered up in my thermal gear and put on my boots, the blister on my heel reminding me to buy a pair that fits properly. I struggled to find gloves and settled on a mismatched pair as I braced for battle with the cold. I tried not to tweak my back while repeatedly yanking the starter cord on our stubborn snow blower. As I began to clear the thick snow off the driveway, the layer of ice hidden below was a reminder that I was not quick enough to clear the driveway last time. Obstacles and challenges now loomed ahead as I anticipate colder temperatures, icy windshields, hazardous driving, and ill-fitting boots and blisters.

When did snow become the enemy? When did it become a chore? When did it become something that added to the weight of my day?

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Defending the Lob, Managing the ICU and Emotional Intelligence

The lob shot.

As a goalie, it’s my nemesis. It was my major weakness in college and even more so today. Standing (or more appropriately treading) 6’3″ tall, with an even longer wingspan, I have always been eager and ready to explode up and out of the water, my arms outstretched, to intimidate a shooter. My height, along with my gangly arms and a quick first reaction, are great tools to disrupt, alter and ultimately block my opponents’ shots.

But my kryptonite is the lob shot. It turns my strength against me. A patient opposing player, by waiting a split second, lets my aggressiveness work against me. By allowing me to rise up and out of the water first, a shooter can then release an agonizingly slow arcing shot, up and over my now sinking self, to then drop into the opposite corner of the net. I react. They wait. And I’m beat.

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Faces and Futility

The patient, previously a John Doe, is now known. Family now present, when before there was none. A spouse, siblings, and young kids all around. Despite seventy-two hours in the ICU, his lungs have failed, his heart has failed, his liver has failed, his kidneys have failed. Too unstable for dialysis, his potassium level climbs higher and higher, despite attempts to slow down and mitigate its lethal effectCardiac arrest is no longer an “if” but a “when”, having reached medical futility.

Kids at the bedside, so young. Unaware. Watching. The face of their dad distorted by tubes in his mouth, IV tubing tugging on his neck, eyes yellow from jaundice, skin all swollen and puffy from edema. Family tension between his siblings and his wife percolates, as his heartbeat becomes more erratic and slow.

In the hallway outside his room, I have a hurried discussion with his wife. She is overwhelmed. Burdened by feelings of guilt competing with anger. Her sadness and despair are palpable. Their last words, their last fight, was days ago, before he was found in a locked motel room, with alcohol around him. Inside him. Poisoning him.

His heart stops while we are talking. We go into his room.

Kids at the bedside, so young. Unaware. Watching. The face of their dad distorted by tubes in his mouth, IV tubing tugging on his neck, eyes yellow from jaundice, skin all swollen and puffy from edema. His heartbeat no longer erratic and slow, because it is no longer beating. This outcome was already determined hours ago.

Compressions will not lower his potassium. IV’s have been pouring adrenaline non-stop into his heart and veins. All to no avail.

I tell the wife to hold his hand and say goodbye. We are not doing compressions. She does not argue.

Is it assent or consent? Medical futility? All of the above?

She holds his hand. She yells. She cries.

Kids at the bedside, so young. Unaware. Watching.

Years pass. I no longer see his face, distorted by tubes in his mouth, IV tubing tugging on his neck, eyes yellow from jaundice, skin all swollen and puffy from edema.

I still see their faces. The kids. They have not left me. I doubt they ever will.


Will The Adults In The Room Please Stand Up

Uncertainty.  In particular, diagnostic uncertainty, would keep me awake at night, early in my career as a freshly minted critical care doctor.  Patients who deteriorated without explanation or haziness on CT Scans without an identified cause, fanned the flames of my insecurity. The scenarios would leave me edgy and uncomfortable impacting my life outside the boundaries of work. Like most doctors, over the years I learned to co-exist with this uncertainty.  Human sickness and disease can be challenging mysteries.

Recently, a new kind of uneasiness has invaded my world causing all sorts of havoc. With the politicization of health care reform and attempts at repeal and replace Obamacare, uncertainty is rearing its head with a vengeance. Twitter and Facebook give minute by minute updates on which senators are a “yes” or “no” and where public opinion currently lies. The evening television roundup details rumors that have leaked from behind closed door meetings. The background noise of it all is deafening. Most discussions are focused on the future impact potential budget cuts or regulation changes. But the uncertainty created by our polarized and tribal politics on any path forward for health care reform is having a real impact now. Every hour of every day, both in the hospital and in my office where I interact with my patients.

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