Did I Break My Ankle or Did My Ankle Break Me: What an Aspiring Physician Learned as a Patient
“The greatest mistake in the treatment of diseases is that there are physicians for the body and physicians for the soul, although the two cannot be separated” -Plato
As my face scraped against the remembered tar of Ocean Road, I simultaneously scolded and chuckled at myself for thinking I would be able to complete the trek to the invariably clingy and overprotective Davidson Library. Regardless of my love for longboarding, it seemed as if I was on the ground more than I was on the board. I sat up to look at my friend on her bike, no doubt laughing at the clumsiness that distinguished my character, but surprisingly saw a look of horror plastered across her face. My eyes followed her gaze to a foot that was uncanny, almost disgusting in its unfamiliarity. The length of my right shin now ended in a set of five toes that were twisted 90 degrees in the wrong direction, east instead of north.
“Well, there go my summer plans.”
Thirty hours in a hospital bed, some insipid hospital meals, a few hours of drug induced comatoseness, a never ending stream of mental breakdowns, 3 fractures, 1 severely torn ligament, 9 screws and a plate in my foot later, I got a taste of freedom.
And now here I am, 8 weeks post-surgery, 19 years old and relearning how to walk on two feet.
As an aspiring physician, this experience offered stirring insight on the doctor-patient relationship I had previously failed to consider. When visualizing my future as a doctor, I imagined myself drowning in textbooks and paperwork, pulling boundless hour shifts, and cutting open bodies to perform life-saving procedures. I seldom considered the exhaustive state of vulnerability my patients would be facing. Lying on an emergency room bed with a contorted ankle and pain piercing every nerve in my body, I was surprised at how much trust I was placing in a man I had not met until a few minutes ago to knock me unconsciousness and snap my foot back into its place.
During my thirty hour stay at Cottage Hospital, one emergency room doctor, one orthopedic surgeon, one anesthesiologist, one physical therapist, and three amiable nurses all told me the same thing: in order to be a great doctor you have to be a patient first, a lesson I hope my peers take away from this article instead of having to learn the hard way.
Relating to a patient’s fear is not easy. Whether it is a terrified parent bringing in their toddler crying of a stomach ache or a naïve high schooler who blew off their hand trying to light a firework, the job of a doctor extends much further than curing the patient’s injuries. A doctor must create a connection with the patient and their families, doing their best to assuage the pummeling stresses of treatment, recovery, hospital bills, short and long term consequences, necessary medication, insurance compliance, physical therapy, the list is truly never ending. Losing control of one’s own body is a sensation mentally and physically taxing, and it is a great physician’s duty to take a few moments to relay trust in the patient who is being forced to trust them.
And I guess that envelopes the lessons I have learned this summer. Despite a lack of a summer job, a rescinded acceptance into a research lab, a forced cancellation of summer courses, and five weeks mostly spent on chess.com or binge reading Game of Thrones, I realized life is as simple as a broken foot. The nature of existence is defined by resilient circumstances beyond our control that will continue to penetrate our bubbles of comfort until the day we die, and all we can do is adapt. This broken foot has taught me to accept the things we cannot control, and try our best to control the things we are able to accept.