A friend of mine is dying today. She and her family have shown tremendous love and courage while sparring with a recurrent disease. She has been a bright face for cancer awareness in the Air Force for several years. The story of her and her family’s battle has been published and has inspired. But today…
It reminds me again that medicine is like flying. We have some pretty awesome weapons and tricks but there are some fights that don’t go the way we want.
Usually I felt a tremendous sense of purpose while deployed. We were gainfully employed, working every day to keep soldiers on track to return to their families. But I’ll never forget the burning Humvee flipped on its side by an improvised explosive device. I’ll never forget the radio call telling me another soldier had been hit as I tried to sort out what was happening on the ground beneath me. On those days I felt useless and frustrated.
With only a tiny bit of experience so far, medicine has been awesome. I again feel gainfully employed when we sort out the patient’s story and when we improve their symptoms with reassurance or medicines or surgeries. But I’ll never forget the 80 year old cowboy that cried in front of me a week before he was gone. I’ll never forget the man who became delirious and then fell behind on his self-administered pain medications the day he faded.
I wish that I had a brilliant and poignant message that would make this clear and meaningful. I don’t. With time, I do believe that these events can build us. The missions and people I can’t forget have shaped how I train and how I make decisions. Selfishly, I hope today will improve how I joke with friends and care for patients. But in truth, sometimes we just get punched in the face. It hurts.
Flying and medicine have come a long ways and will go even farther. Neither, however, will save everyone. My friend should be able to keep smiling while raising her twin sons. Her husband is a good dude who deserves a much longer friendship. Yet medicine has reached its 2016 limits.