Friday, January 10, 2014
The one that got away
Even though I am a surgeon, my background is in dentistry. So, while I like to think that I am making a difference in my life's work, it often isn't on the same level as many of my other surgical colleagues.
For example, the hospital I work at has a slogan/motto/mission statement (whatever the appropriate term), "Changing medicine, changing lives." Somehow changing the phrase to, "Changing dentistry, changing lives" just doesn't have the same appeal.
I still think what I am doing is important. Maybe in some ways I am saving lives, but usually in a more figurative manner. "Saving" my teenage patient from her tormentors who "make fun" of her "buck teeth" by realigning her jaws seems pretty important. And "saving" my patients from their excruciating tooth pain certainly is significant in that moment.
But today I was reminded that even though I don't usually see it, maybe I am saving lives. Unfortunately, that happened when my patient passed away today*. This doesn't mean I haven't seen death while working in the hospital. I have seen other mortalities while on other teams, but this was the first patient for which I was the primary doctor. I had operated on her, and I had followed her all along the way.
I am grateful that I don't get this reminder very often! In fact, it took me 4.5 years of residency to experience it and I am grateful I am in a profession where that isn't unusual. I guess I will probably rarely know if I have "saved" or "changed" many lives. But today, I'm glad I'm "just a dentist" who hopefully wont have to find out for a long time.
*Sadly, people in this country can, and occasionally still do, die from dental infections. Usually they are not in the best of health and often delay treatment. I guess it is a good reminder to stay in good dental health and to seek treatment early for problems.