"Experience is simply the name we give our mistakes." Oscar Wilde
Part of being a doctor is learning to accept that you aren't going to be able to save every patient who present themselves to you for treatment. As a med student, losing your first patient can be devastating. You question every action you made, and even if you find no mistakes you're still left wondering if you couldn't have done more. In the worst case scenario, the loss can be enough to make a student so unsure of their own abilities that they may very well walk away from medicine entirely. I'm not saying it happens often, but, it happens.
We've all lost patients that we know we shouldn't have lost, whether it's because they were just too far gone when they arrived in the ER, or their condition was just too complicated. As hard as that is when it happens, we accept it as part of being a doctor, no different than knowing that some patients will require x-rays and others will need surgery.
There are those times though when things happen that shouldn't, times that eat at you long after the patient's face and sometimes even their name have faded from your memory. Rick Kendrick is one of those for me, even now, almost six years later I can close my eyes and see his face, see his fiance's face, and know that I was responsible for stealing their future from them. The difference with this young man's life, and his subsequent death is that I remember far too clearly the mistakes that led to his death, and no amount of regret on my part can change what happened.
In my own defense I wasn't scheduled to work on the day that all this happened. The night before was our Department Christmas party, I was going through a difficult time, had drank far too much, and expected to spend the next day sleeping it off. I woke to find Erin standing over me with the phone, and despite my protests that I wasn't supposed to work, Kerry's demand that I do just that. I knew I wasn't in any shape to be seeing patients, I should have stood my ground and refused to go in, but, I didn't.
Rick was one of the first people I saw when I got there, I remember him coming up to the desk to say he was feeling better and he was even thinking of leaving. I convinced him to stay, to at least let us look at him, though at the time even he thought he was fighting nothing more than the flu. He was around twenty I think, and accompanied by his fiance, Laura, I wonder now if I remember them so well because I saw Danijela and myself in the way they acted toward each other. To this day I don't know why I didn't listen to those who tried to warn me that it was more than the flu, even Abby saw it, but, not me, I was too stubborn, or maybe I was just too full of myself. By the time we realized that there was more going on, Rick had to be intubated, and even then I put the tube in wrong, causing even more problems for him.
As hard as it was knowing what I had done to Rick, it was even worse explaining things to his fiance, Laura. I remember wondering how I could look at her, knowing I was responsible for destroying all of the dreams the two of them had for their future. She wasn't angry with me though. Even when I explained that it wasn't the flu but rather Leukemia that was causing all his symptoms. Of all the things she could have said, the only thing she asked was why it had taken so long, he'd been there all day and nothing had been done, if only he'd seen someone sooner, maybe things would have turned out differently. I almost wished she'd yelled at me, she could have hit me in anger, but, no, all she did was ask me to sit and pray with her, as if that could undo everything. By the time Rick left the ER he was as good as dead, a machine was breathing for him, and it was doubtful he would ever regain consciousness again.
There have been others over the years, but few have affected the way Rick did, his death is one that I carry as a reminder. Never again will I let myself be forced into a shift I know I'm in no shape to work, if only the cost of learning that lesson hadn't come at such a high price.