Op-Med is a collection of original articles contributed by Doximity members.
Clinicians are no strangers to working through the holiday season and leaving their families to care for the families of others. Through inclement weather, life-threatening accidents, unforgettable gifts, and clinical miracles, the medical community has experienced the power of the human spirit, season after season. Doximity compiled a roundup of the poignant holiday patient stories members shared this year.
During this year of profound illness and death, clinicians are remembering moments of survival. In short sentences of awe, one EM physician described the “Christmas miracle” he once witnessed of a young couple and their baby found unharmed after an accident on icy roads. “They reported the roof of their car peeled off going under a semi. I later confirmed this with highway patrol — this was indeed the case.”
Patients and their actions can still surprise. After caring for a bomber whose device prematurely exploded, one orthopaedic surgeon still remembers him decades later. “As a patient, he was friendly and compliant, and also seemed appreciative of the care I had provided. Several months later I received a Christmas card with the return address of Federal Correctional Institute Leavenworth!”
More than holiday cards, clinicians are remembering the meaningful gifts and tokens of appreciation they have received over the years. One psychiatrist recalled the family of a young boy she cared for during her neurosurgery elective. “When Christmas came, and his outcome was still quite precarious, they gave me a set of gold tree ornaments, reindeer in a group, with all of their names and mine — one on each reindeer. I keep it to this day and look at it every year at this very time. I hope he lived a good life.”
Acts of service during the holidays carry more meaning for clinicians. The “best Thanksgiving” of one psychiatrist’s life was not with friends nor family, but with seven children at the psychiatric ED at Bronx Care. “The older kids helped the little ones to wash their hands, and for three hours we had Thanksgiving dinner together. The older kids convinced the little ones to try new foods. We talked about different things … I am honored to have been a part of those kiddos’ childhoods. I’ll never forget this and I doubt they will either.”
In some of the stories shared, music played a part. One ob/gyn physician remembered a long and slow Christmas Eve labor which resulted in an unplanned C-section. “They had planned to play music during the delivery, so we queued up their CD (remember those?) and had it playing in the OR as we delivered their healthy baby girl. The joy of sharing that moment with that family overcame my initial feelings of disappointment, and even now, years later, still warms my heart.”
What may seem like routine care can result in moving gestures of gratitude. An ophthalmologist remembered a woman’s reaction after having her vision restored. “A patient had travelled a ways to our office with a flat affect seeking care for her floaters. After several visits and treatments, she came empty-handed on Christmas Eve with a gift. She said she was nervous and had something for me — she belted out a rendition of ‘Amazing Grace.’ There wasn’t a dry eye in any room. At the end, she told me she hadn’t sung since her husband’s military funeral.”
And in these times of isolation, sometimes a simple ‘thank you’ is all that is needed to restore faith and connection. One family medicine physician remembered a text message he received after treating a woman’s severe anxiety: “Thank you for seeing me today. I feel stronger and less afraid.”
Which patient stories do you return to every year? And what new ones are you making during this new and different holiday season?