recently i caught up with an old friend. the day i started studying surgery he started in internal medicine. he is now a fancy prof. i was amazed and impressed. he really was, and i assume still is, a really great guy. yet even great people must start out small. i remember the first day we met.
i was on call in the surgical icu. i had been part of the surgery department for a full two days and was still unsure about pretty much everything. so when the internal people phoned asking if we had a bed available for one of their patients i called our prof even though there was one bed empty. the prof was a good man and told me we were obliged to help them even though the pressure on our beds was usually great. i phoned the internist on call and told him he could bring his patient.
some time later a patient was wheeled in. the first thing i noticed was that she was blue, a colour i have often said doesn't appeal to me. the next thing i noticed was that she was just barely breathing. being astute even though inexperienced, i concluded she was in the process of dying. at that moment the physician walked in and introduced himself to me. he had just started in internal medicine two days previously and was also pretty unsure of himself. after whizzing through the formalities of greeting, i pointed out to him that his patient wasn't breathing too well and that she needed intubation and ventilation soon. otherwise one could only hope her policies were all paid up. he looked at her. it was abundantly obvious i was right.
"yes, i see what you mean," he said after a moment's thought. "i'm just quickly going to call my consultant. i'll be right back." and with that, before i even had time to express surprise, he was gone. the sister and i looked at each other with bewilderment on our faces. it just seemed that intubating the patient was at that very moment more important than finding his consultant.
"well, we know what to do." i said, "get the patient into a room and let's intubate. without any further delay or looking around for wandering consultants we soon had the endotracheal tube in position and the patient connected to a ventilator. soon the blue hue was replaced by a more encouraging pink colour. not totally unlike the patient, we all breathed a sigh of relief.
after a short time, the internal registrar returned with consultant in tow. by that time the icu staff and i had settled down and were even making coffee. then i put the story together.
the registrar had been out of clinical medicine for a while doing some or other form of research. he was not confident enough to intubate the patient and just assumed that i also would not be. he therefore felt he needed to get his consultant there as fast as possible to place the tube. it was the best he knew to do at the time. unfortunately it would not have been good enough for the patient. i had to intervene. i was not the patient's best hope. i was the patient's only hope.
well, all's well that ends well.
catching up with the esteemed prof after so many years made me realise how even the mighty have humble beginnings.