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Medical School, Medicine, Undergraduate

Amnesia, That Unremembered Country

Hospital

"I found myself, quite unexpectedly, staring down a hospital corridor, its white floor and ceiling and beige walls, now in recollection, bleached at their edges as if glimpsed through a thin cloud’s brief eclipse" - S. Lee Ware; Image by morrissey via Flickr

I found myself, quite unexpectedly, staring down a hospital corridor, its white floor and ceiling and beige walls, now in recollection, bleached at their edges as if glimpsed through a thin cloud’s brief eclipse. Nurses and technicians walked purposefully past on unguessed errands, progressing, with each step, further into the frayed perimeter of my awareness. Mystery herself had descended, it seemed, blanketing my surroundings and the course that led me to them in impenetrable inscrutability, and distressing me with contra-compatible sensations: disorientation and déjà vu.

In the flash of a passed moment, though some time later, I saw the face of my wife emerging from the surrounding blur. Immediately, the emotional warmth of joy and relief flushed my cheeks as if I were being rescued against hope from an unjust exile in the maddening dark of Plato’s allegorical cave. I embraced my rescuer with tearful gratitude, but our words faded into the blankness that followed.

The cycle did eventually erode, and I began to retain and accumulate pieces of its narrative. But there were very humbling moments. For example, according to my wife, it took some time to convince me, in my state of temporary anterograde amnesia, that I was not a doctor in the hospital, but rather an undergraduate student at the nearby college. My strong desire to practice medicine was foremost in my mind, but the details of my daily life seemed far away, as if in distant memory. The eventual comprehension of my status was colored by both amusement at my confusion and disappointment proportional to the daunting duration of the medical training that, I realized, still lay ahead.

Within twenty-four hours, I had regained most of my memory and could establish new ones as well. Though short, the experience changed my outlook in several ways. Most significant for my future patients, I experienced some part of the shock and panic that can come with traumatic stress and medical emergencies, and the disorientation that a patient may feel when thrust into a medical setting. During my brief hospital stay, I saw my condition not as a presentation of symptoms to be differentially diagnosed, but as a personal crisis, with consequences extending into every aspect of my life and affecting every relationship. I have now seen the divergence of perspectives between providers and their patients from both sides, and I believe I will be better able, in part because of this humbling experience, to bridge the potential divide by empathizing with my patients’ psychosocial and emotional needs, while also treating their disease.

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