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How Do You Measure Success In Medicine?

The staff was concerned that she came to the office without her interpreter.

How would we communicate? How would I assess her symptoms?

“Should we get a translator from the hospital?” they asked.

I knew this patient well. I had done battle with rogue circuits in her left atrium more than once. I could even remember the fractions of the fractionated potentials–the squiggles of the squiggly line. I could recall my body’s joyous sensations when burning that precarious ridge of heart muscle steadied her heart’s rhythm.

“Got it,” we say.


“Did you see that…It’s gone.” It’s as if we give fractionated electrical signals monster status. Go away, you bad monster!

So with all this background knowledge, I reassured the staff that my non-verbal clinical observational skills might be sufficient.

And they were.

I entered the room to find a radiant woman that looked full of life. A good sign. Since we couldn’t converse, we looked–at each other.

With hopeful eyes, I beamed my thoughts to her: “Gosh dang it, I worked so hard in that thin-walled upper chamber of yours…please tell me your heart is good…pretty please.”

What happened next needed no translation.

She held out her arms, smiled and motioned me closer. Heart docs don’t hug that much, so it took me a nanosecond to comply. She held me firmly, and longer than one of those nominal cursory hugs. My chest felt her regular rhythm.

I knew the ablation had held.

As she said “thank you” in broken English, I saw the tear on her cheek.

I wanted to tell her how thankful I was for her, and her beautiful expression of thanks–one that needed no words.

I wanted to tell her that the second-most invested person in her procedure’s success was me. It matters, a whole lot.

And that this stuff matters so much lies at the core of why doctoring is such a great job.

    *This blog post was originally published at Dr John M*

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