As doctors, we have the pleasure and sometimes the misfortune of seeing all the facets of human emotions. Our days are filled with endless tasks that we check off religiously in the hope of finding solutions to some of our patients' puzzling conditions. One day, in the midst of a fall on the cardiology floor, I had the pleasure of seeing something rare in hospitals these days. I saw two people in love, and this day reminded me of one of the best things about medical practice: being able to experience the purest forms of humanity.
My day started like any other, prerounds, ordering morning labs, trying not to spill my morning coffee, and then rounds. In prerounds, I met a lovely 87-year-old woman coming in for COVID-19. When I asked her how she was feeling, she said she was OK but she just cared about her fiancé, who had been hospitalized alongside her that morning. This is how the most magnificent love story I have ever been a part of inside the walls of a cold Boston hospital started.
Prerounds followed by rounds followed by finishing my daily tasks occupied our team's morning, but in the afternoon I went back to my patient's room to find out more about this fiancé of hers. As fate would have it, she was feeling quite unwell at home and her fiancé, a 94-year-old gentleman, decided to take her to the hospital to be evaluated. Unfortunately, as he was helping her out of the car in the ER, he fell, and instead of just her being admitted to the hospital, he had to be admitted too. It turns out she had a history of heart failure, tested COVID positive, and needed some supplemental oxygen. He, on the other hand, fractured his hip that morning but was also COVID positive, and his chronic renal disease had turned into AKI.
As fate and hospital policy have it, they could not be roomed on the same floor, and she was quite worried about her new fiancé. My curiosity started to spike, and I decided to ask her more about her love story. She had been a widow for most of her life, unsure if love would knock on her door again. Had lived a relatively normal life with her children but lately was feeling loneliness approach her heart. At 84, her daughter signed her up for a dating app, and her life changed after that first date. She meets a lovely and handsome 91-year-old and they decide to spend every second of their days together. Recently engaged, their dream was to live by the beach in a nursing home together, sharing the time they had left and enjoying each other's company.
As she was telling me the story, we were disrupted by the most atrocious phone ringing. I could hear the voice of the orthopaedic surgery resident on the other line. Her love was acutely ill and needed dialysis to treat his kidney injury. My heart broke a little, and I think I realized that the most important task I had that day was to reunite this couple before it was too late.
I had one of those epiphany moments where you realize it's easier to get patients into surgery and biopsies than roomed together. For our couple, luck was not in the cards, and despite my efforts talking to the nursing coordinators, cardiology, and orthopaedic surgery teams, there was no way our patients could stay together. And by no means could my patient visit the love of her life in person until her COVID restrictions and his were done. I begged and used logic to rationalize the situation to the hospital administrative staff, but there was no positive response. The best I could do was coordinate a video call between them and hope that was good enough. When I met him and told him what my plans were, he smiled and then held my hand tightly. He said that she was the best thing to happen to him in his life and that their love was stronger than any medicine. He seemed a bit confused, but he had clarity on what was most important. I can't quite describe what it was like watching them as the iPad image cleared up and they could finally see each other face to face.
Sometimes I think that is the kind of magic hospitals feed on. That is the kind of humanity and pure rare human interaction that makes medicine worth it. They told each other how much each loved the other, and he even started flirting with her a bit. They both cried out of happiness, and his pain and her anxiety improved after that call. The rest of the story is one for the romance cinema section, and eventually, they left the hospital for a nursing home that we managed to get for them by the beach.
That could have been the best day of my month, and for a second, seeing a love so pure and passionate made me forget about all the suffering, death, and pain of the rest of the patients on my list. Medicine is a lifestyle that we choose every day, and we have to face many emotions. Most times, these emotions are our patients’, and most times they are not positive ones. But every so often we are faced with magic, we experience some of the love humans have for each other, and we realize how lucky we are to be working in this incredible field. I hope by sharing this story we remind ourselves of looking for the beauty behind the horror that we sometimes face in hospitals and as health care workers. I hope we fall in love with medicine again and again.
What experience made you fall in love with medicine? Share in the comments.
Dr. Daniela Arango Isaza obtained her medical degree at Universidad CES in Medellin, Colombia, where she spent the majority of her life. Currently, she is a second-year resident of internal medicine at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. Dr. Isaza is interested in medical writing and medical education.
Illustration by April Brust