Latest blog post:Welcome to Medicine
I woke up to the sound of pattering rain. I got up and pulled back the window curtains. It was a dreary day. But today was not just any other day. Today was my first day of medical school.
Upon arriving at the hospital, I introduced myself as a medical student. The words felt foreign coming from my mouth. I felt like an impostor. The staff escorted me into a dark room. “Hi Matt,” I was warmly greeted by the radiologist. I was eager to shadow, secretly hoping I would be able to see patients today. “We don’t see patients, but we see pretty much everything else,” he said, pointing to the screen in front of him. “We see their pictures,” he clarified with a grin. I was slightly disappointed, but I brushed it aside. The next hour was a blur as the radiologist explained findings on dozens of X-ray and CT images. One of physicians must have seen the puzzled looks on my face. “I know everything may seem kind of confusing right now, but just ask us if you have a question,” he said reassuringly. I nodded as I jotted down some notes. Medicine is a fascinating and strange world.
A loud beeping sound broke the silence. The doctor looked around, then down at the pager in his pocket. He hastily grabbed the phone. A patient was on the way. My heartbeat sped up. Would I be able to see a patient today? What was the radiologist going to do? A whole team of healthcare professionals hurried into the viewing gallery as the patient was being lifted onto the CT scanner. The radiologist inspected dozens of colourful pictures on the computer. Moments later, he declared that the scans revealed a massive stroke and that he would be operating. As we ran downstairs to meet the patient’s family, he told me, “It’s important to act quickly. Millions of neurons are dying every minute.” I could sense urgency in his voice.
The radiologist gave brief introductions and told the family that the patient was having a stroke. He would attempt to open up the blood vessels using a procedure where a wire would be guided up to the brain. The risks of the procedure included a clot in the brain and death. I could see those dreadful words on the consent form and the patient’s family visibly distraught. I turned my head away as I felt my eyes welling up. I couldn’t imagine how frightening it must have been to be told that the one you love most could die in the next hour. I went into the operating room with mixed emotions: thrilled to observe in the operating room and worried for the patient.
I watched as the radiologist carefully guided a thin wire up through the patient’s body into the brain. He introduced a contrast agent into the blood vessel, but there was no perfusion through the obstructed area. My heart sank.
After what seemed like an eternity of threading the wire around the brain, the radiologist gently pulled back on the wire. Small pieces of the clot came up. He injected the contrast dye again.
An extensive array of blood vessels illuminated the screen, looking like an ancient tree with a thousand branches. The clogged blood vessel had been opened. What a beautiful sight. The radiologist let out a cry of joy. The whole room seemed to breathe a collective sigh of relief.
“They would have died tonight,” the radiologist explained to me after the procedure. I also noticed he took his time in speaking with the family in a life-threatening situation. As if he was able to read my mind, he said: “In these cases, the family needs to be fully aware of how things could turn out.”
I was impressed by how compassionately he responded under pressure. I hope I will be able to care for my patients like this one day. I thanked him and I told him I was surprised at how the day unfolded. “It was amazing!” I exclaimed. With the slightest twinkle in his eye, he smiled and said, “Welcome to medicine.”