Dr. Sid Schwab recently wrote a wonderful blog post about what doctors feel when they treat patients who remind them of their own kids. For example, he describes how it makes the physician want to run home and hug his/her kids out of gratitude that they’re ok. His post reminded me of an experience I had in the pediatric Emergency Department where I came face to face with memories of my own childhood trauma.
I was bitten in the face by a neighbor’s dog when I was about 4 years old. It was unprovoked and completely unexpected. The dog had no history of viciousness and I had no history of tormenting the creature. I was standing in the hallway, eye to eye with the dog (we were the same height) and I reached out to gently pet him when he attacked me. My parents freaked out, blood was pouring out of my face, and apparently it initially looked as if he’d gotten my left eyes since it was covered in blood. I was rushed to the local hospital where a family physician cleaned me up and put stitches in my cheek, eyebrow, and corner of my eye. It was hard to sit still for the numbing medicine and I was crying softly through it all. I don’t remember the details of the event, but I do still have the scars on my face – scars, I am told, that would be less noticeable if a plastic surgeon had closed the wounds.
Flash forward 30 years and I’m working a night shift in the pediatric ED. A father carries in his young daughter, crying and bloody. She had been mauled by a dog – and had sustained injuries to her face only. I escort the little girl to an examining room and begin flushing her wounds with saline to get a sense of how extensive they are. Dad goes to fill out paperwork while mom holds the girl’s hand.
It was eerie – her injuries were very similar to my own. I figured she’d need a total of 15 stitches or so, all on the left side of her face. There was no missing flesh so I knew that the cosmetic result would be good. I explained to her mom that we would be able to stitch her up nicely – and that she’d likely have minimal scarring. The mom asked for a plastic surgeon – and I agreed to call one for her right away.
That night I had a new appreciation for what my parents must have felt when I was bitten. I could see these strangers’ concern – how they hoped that their little girl wouldn’t be permanently disfigured, how they wanted the most experienced doctor to do the suturing, how they held her hand as she cried. It was really tough – but we were all grateful that the injuries weren’t more severe… and I was glad that I didn’t have to do the suturing. I showed the girl my scars and she seemed comforted by how they had turned out. This experience reminded me how personal experience can add a special dimension to caring for others, and that sometimes having been a patient can make you a better doctor.This post originally appeared on Dr. Val’s blog at RevolutionHealth.com.