The Other Side

I had a shift in the NICU overnight a few weeks ago.

I was called to the bedside because the mom was worried the baby looked pale. When I looked at her vital signs her heart rate had been elevated all day. She was a few weeks old, so she was approaching the age where a drop in her hemoglobin could be possible. So the first thing that came to mind was anemia.

I had a patient who presented like this a couple months back with the same symptoms: tachycardia, decreased pallor and she was around the same number of weeks. We were perplexed about what could have been causing her symptoms. We were concerned she had an arrhythmia, or that she had an infection or was in pain and started to do a full workup.

Some how we ended up checking a hemoglobin and it was like 6 (down from her normal hemoglobin of 12 the week prior). We ended up having to give her a blood transfusion! It was so scary for the parents. And we all felt dumb as hell that we didn't think of that first. So this time I wasn't going to be fooled again!

So I confidently went to the bedside to inform the parents about what I thought was going on, that we would check a hemoglobin and would potentially need to transfuse the baby. First off, they looked at me confused as to who I even was because they had not seen me before and were wondering where the hell I came from. And then I looked over at her mom and she was in tears. She was so worried about everything I had just said, that her baby may be sick, that she may need a blood transfusion. It was all overwhelming and scary for her. And for me as a medical professional, it didn't seem like a big deal but for her as a parent it was a big deal. I put my hand on her shoulder, reassured her that everything would be ok and that I would be around for the rest of the night if she had questions or concerns.

The hemoglobin came back and was normal and ultimately the baby was fine.

On my way home I saw her mother standing in the cold waiting at a bus stop near the hospital. She had probably just left the NICU to go and visit her baby. I stopped for a minute and thought about what that must be like, to not be able to go home with your baby, to have to visit your baby in an incubator, to have scary confusing things happen to them.

Sometimes we get so wrapped up in the medicine, we forget about the human side of medicine. The empathetic side where we think about how it feels to be a patient, to be on the other side of the diagnosis. I hope to never lose that. I hope it doesn't take me standing out in the cold waiting for a bus to understand what it is like to be a patient.