(Please note that this blog is based on real people and actual events. I am grateful to Ed’s family for granting me permission to use his real first name in this blog)
One of the best things about the practice of medicine is the ability to develop long-term relationships with patients and their families. As physicians, we have the unique privilege of meeting and interacting with thousands of people throughout our careers. Every once in a while, there are certain people who really make a lasting impact and forever change us as caregivers and as human beings. Ed was one of those patients.
This week, I said goodbye to one of my long time patients and dearest friends. Ed, a Korean War veteran, was an amazing man. He was a dedicated father, a devoted spouse and lived a life that was an example of faith and service to others. I met Ed through his daughter years ago. He had moved locally to live near his children and needed a new cardiologist. Fortunately for me, his daughter asked me to take him on as a patient.
Ed had an ischemic cardiomyopathy and suffered from complications of congestive heart failure (CHF). He was fairly well compensated on medical therapy but continued to have worsening CHF. During the course of his illness, we eventually implanted a Biventricular ICD and his symptoms improved significantly. As with most patients with CHF, over the years, he began to have more frequent hospitalizations for CHF exacerbations.
Through it all, Ed was always cheerful and never complained–in fact it was sometimes difficult to monitor his symptoms due to his demeanor. Ed always put others before himself. His wife, suffering from her own chronic illness, was the focus of his final days. He loved her deeply and wanted to be sure that she was comfortable and well cared for. Because of my relationship with Ed and his family, I have been made a better cardiologist, and most importantly, a better man.
Men like Ed are few and far between–I was honored to care for him. My professional role as his cardiologist is what provided me with the fortunate opportunity to be a part of his life and develop a relationship with he and his wonderful family. As I have said many times before, Medicine is best practiced when relationships and tight bonds are formed between Doctor and patient. As I left the chapel where the Catholic Mass celebrating Ed’s life was held, I could only wonder if I would ever have the chance to meet another “Ed”. Healthcare in the US has become more fragmented than ever and care is no longer contiguous in many cases. Many patients are experiencing access issues and are being told that they can no longer see their long time physicians because of “network” issues or insurance coverage rules. Doctors are forced to spend more time typing and glaring at computer screens and less time actually getting to know the “people” behind the diseases they treat. Connections like I had with Ed are harder to form and personal bonds are less likely to occur in the current environment. I fear that medicine is becoming more about the “system” and managing regulation than it is about listening and caring for those who suffer from disease.
Ed taught me many things during the time that I cared for him. He taught me humility, kindness and selflessness–I have never met anyone quite like him. Most importantly, he taught me the value of relationships and TIME. Even in death, he inspires me to be more to each of my patients–in spite of increasing government demands on both my time and talents. Ed never stopped caring for others–he never wavered in his commitments to his God, his wife and his children. It is my hope that I can stand firm and continue to fight for my patients and their right to receive exceptional care. While I continue to actively speak out against the Affordable Care Act and the regulation of medicine that separates doctor from patient, I must do so in a way that is constructive and advocates for the patient rather than for the doctor. That is how Ed would see it–of that I am sure.