For the past month and half, her father had been navigating the process of applying and being approved as a court-appointed surrogate or proxy. A month and a half. The father felt stuck within the gears of the medical-legal system, helpless, while his daughter deteriorated, while her hope, her body and her mind withered away. The glimmer of hope that came to me quickly vanished. A system that had once failed me, was now failing Amanda.
This is when I realized that medicine was not simply the sum of objective, calculated clinical decisions. So much of the power of healing came from nurturing the patient, guiding the family, offering a light at the end of the tunnel, even when the odds were stacked against you. Medicine was not a one-way road of healing, either. The best physicians heal their patients, but in turn, heal themselves and face the depths of human vulnerability and suffering, pursuing a meaning much greater than themselves.
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I made a resolution to update Amanda’s father every day, to help him find an attorney, to be at Amanda’s bedside each day, without words, just present. There were some good days, when she would smile or chuckle in response to jokes, and of course bad days when it seemed she was just withering away. But throughout this humbling process, I discovered that my own depression was slowly withering away. A fire had been lit within me; a fire of meaning, of purpose, of humility as a student doctor. A fire that unfroze me. A fire that we must never forget in order to provide the utmost compassion, sincerity, and humanity to those we care for.
As fate would have it, one month later, while on an elective in child psychiatry, a staff member was speaking about a patient on the adult inpatient unit who had finally received shock therapy. I turned rigid. I immediately ran toward the unit, stopping briefly only at the nurses' station to inquire, "In which room is Amanda staying?" I stepped into the room, watchfully, greeted by the same face I had seen unmoving so many times. But this time, her mouth moved. She spoke. She spoke in full sentences. She was responsive; she had been eating. Her voice was tranquil and deliberate, just as I had always envisioned. Her memory was moderately intact, her affect bright. A single tear trickled down my face. Extraordinary.