I believe that, as a doctor, I should always get a blanket for my patients who need one. Yes I know there are other people who can do this. I can ask a nurse or an orderly to do it, but I believe that I should do it. So several times a day, while working in our emergency department, I leave my patient’s bedside, get them a nice warm blanket and cover them up, before continuing on my day.
This action goes along with what I believe to be the three rules of emergency medicine (and perhaps medicine in general). I repeat these often to the residents and medical students I supervise in our busy urban emergency department.
I tell them: (1) we make people feel better; (2) we try to make sure nothing really bad is happening to them right now; and (3), we try to tell them what is causing their symptoms. I say that we can almost always achieve the first two rules but not always the third. No news is usually good news from an ER doctor. If I find a reason for, say, your abdominal pain it is rarely a good thing.
Which brings me back to why I believe I should offer to bring my patients a blanket. To me it is the first step in communicating to the person that my priority is his or her comfort, both physical and emotional. It is a simple act that acknowledges my desire to meet their basic needs as a patient. It may be an overused expression but I want to treat my patients the way I would want my family members taken care of. This behavior was also modeled for me when I was a patient.
Shortly after college I was involved in a serious accident while working in an ambulance as a volunteer. The short story is that I broke my femur, the large bone in my thigh, and my recovery required a total of four surgeries over a year or so. The surgeon who performed the last three operations (and to whom I credit my ability to now walk unaided) usually did his rounds late at night.
He was a brilliant and talented surgeon who reminded me in appearance of a chain-smoking Einstein. He would ask about my pain and my mental state, but what I remember most is his offering to bring me French fries the next time he visited. I felt that he cared about me and, more importantly, understood what I was going through. He connected with me, and I trusted and obeyed everything he told me to do.
Getting a blanket and placing it on my patient is, in the end, a check and balance for me. I have the power to order hundreds of tests and treatments. I strive to always be right (or at least never wrong). And on not so rare occasions, I help save a life. But in the end, if I have not made that connection with my patient, if I have not shown them I understand their needs, then I have failed them as a physician and as a person.
Authored by J. Narro