Ross University Blog

Dr. Wm. Lynn Weaver on: Why Does Medicine Still Inspire?

June 17, 2014

By Wm. Lynn Weaver, MD, FACS, Senior Associate Dean, Dominica Campus

Why does medicine still inspire me? I think of the many patient encounters that have made a lasting impact on me and the memories that continue to make me smile. But what I want to share with you is not a great success story, not a miracle of science and technology, and not a story of divine intervention. In fact, it is a story about what I initially felt was a failure. I thought it was a failure to do what Dr. LaSalle LeFall, the great Howard University surgeon, asserted when he spoke at Meharry Medical College where I was a medical student. He said, “A doctor can give people their greatest possessions, their health or their lives.” This was what I believed I had failed to do with one patient.

While on general surgery call I saw a 66 year-old man in the ER with an acute, board-like abdomen, but initial studies failed to reveal a source. I examined him and we immediately went to the OR, knowing only that something bad had happened. On opening the abdomen we encountered dead bowel, from the ligament of Trize to the descending colon. My initial thought was to just close and not wake him up, to let him expire without pain or misery. Also at that time the idea of small-bowel transplant was not yet a reality and at the patient’s age, 66, he would not have been a candidate. My final consideration was that patients his age did not do well on hyper-alimentation.

After a few moments of contemplation I realized I could not just close, so I resected the dead bowel, and informed his family of what I found and what I did. Twelve hours later I got a call from the resident who told me that our patient has no pulse in either leg despite post-op heparin therapy, so we went back to the OR for embolectomy, which failed, necessitating amputation of his right leg above the knee. Thirty-six hours later this was followed by amputation of his left leg.

On my rounds, twice a day, for two months, I would see him and his family in the SICU, and then in his room. Every time I saw him I questioned myself: why didn’t I just close and prevent him and his family these months of pain and suffering? I was plagued with guilt and recriminations for the decisions I had made.

One night, after finishing a late case, I stopped by his room, and to ease my conscience, I sat down to talk to him about my decision to not to just let him pass during that first operation.

He held my hand and said, “Dr. Weaver, I could never thank you enough for what you have done for me. You gave me what everybody wants, a little more time to do and say what they should have done or said before. I am so thankful you did not let me die, but you gave me time to say good-bye to my wife and children, to hug my daughter and tell her how proud I am of her and how much I loved her and ask her to forgive me for the times I had to work and missed being there for her. We are all at peace now thanks to you. God bless you.” He passed away a few weeks later. I attended his funeral and sat with his family.

I have come to realize that even though I failed to give back that man’s health or save his life, I had given him the precious gift of time, for which I was blessed by him and his family. I know of no other occupation where you can make a difference this profound. It is an honor to be called Doctor.

NOTE: This post was adapted from a presentation by Dr. Weaver at the American Medical Association’s Inspirations in Medicine event on June 6, 2014.

Tags: Leadership

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