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Carol is our administrator at the Center for Primary Healthcare and is a regular contributor to this blog. She is a registered nurse and also holds a masters in public health.

Recently, I bent down in my garden to plant some basil and felt an almost indiscernible pang. Was the pain really there, or was I imagining it? I didn’t need to wait long to find out. Within forty-five minutes, I was barely able to speak without gritting my teeth. I surmised that my day wouldn’t be complete without a trip to the emergency room, since this pain was far worse than childbirth. I called Dr. C. and told him I thought [correctly! it turned out] that I had a kidney stone. After arriving in the emergency room, I spent the next twelve hours in the hospital.

Receiving healthcare from others when you are a healthcare provider yourself is a strange experience. You anticipate the care that needs to be provided to the patient–except of course–the patient is yourself. You listen in on every conversation regarding labs and tests in what feels like an ‘out of body’ experience. The clinical skill of your colleagues takes on a deeper appreciation in your mind and your heart, as you witness them work to help and care for you.

I am very grateful for the competencies of each person who took care of me during this ordeal. Dr. Crevier and Dr. Uppuluri, coordinated my care at Ingalls Hospital and very quickly I was relieved of my misery.

If my chart is ever selected for a ‘quality assurance’ audit, it will be clear that I was provided with state of the art, timely and competent medical care. Such a review might include whether I received IV potassium and IV antibiotics in a timely manner, whether or not the CT scans were done at the appropriate intervals, and whether or not my caregivers addressed my pain appropriately. These are all critical elements to good care. As a team of health care professionals at the Center for Primary Healthcare, we are very thankful that our patients sent to Ingalls Hospital receive excellent inpatient care.

However, as I look back on those pain filled hours, I realize that as essential as the clinical competencies were to my relief; clinical competencies alone are not sufficient. Human suffering affects the human spirit and is an unquantifiable, mysterious thing in our lives. As individuals, we normally do whatever we can to avoid any kind of suffering, and when it invades our lives we can be quickly overwhelmed.

When physicians, nurses and yes, even the housekeepers, infuse a person’s hospital stay with kindnesses—these will be remembered far longer than the other details. I will remember the firm handhold of my attending physician, as he assured me that he had reserved a spot in the operating room for me. I will remember encouraging words to me from the emergency room nurse. I will remember the lighthearted humor of the radiology techs who made me smile.

It has been a good thing to experience ‘the other side of the sheets’. It has reminded me of how fragile life is, how much I have to be grateful for. It has also been a sober reminder of our deep responsibilities towards you, our patients, to be careful to be kind and compassionate, to listen carefully and love deeply.

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