Health Sciences Report Fall 2004

Opinion - What single life experience has most influenced the way you practice medicine?

By Carrie L. Byington, M.D.
Associate Professor, Division of Infectious Diseases and Geographic Medicine Department of Pediatrics

He was five years old, poor, and dead when he came into the emergency room. I was a second-year resident, alone and scared. I started CPR. I intubated him. I put in a subclavian line to give him fluids. I gave dopamine. I did CPR again. I gave ceftriaxone. I did CPR a third time. He went to the ICU and died—this time, for real—Þve days later.

His pediatrician told his mother he died because she did not buy the medicine he prescribed. My supervisors told me he died because I did not give nafcillin. She could not afford to buy the medicine. I was too inexperienced to know ceftriaxone did not cover Staphylococcus aureus.

No one told her that she had done the best she could, that she was a good mother. No one told me that I had done the best I could, that I was a good doctor. She probably still lives with the guilt. It took me six years and an infectious diseases fellowship to ease mine. She was misjudged as a mother. I was misjudged as a resident.

I practice now trying to avoid both of those mistakes.


By Marc E. Babitz, M.D.
Professor, Division of Family Practice
Department of Family and Preventive Medicine

My second year as a family physician for a rural medically underserved community, I met Madge, a delightful, independent woman in her late 50s, proud of her organic garden. She believed that a natural diet, exercise, and a positive spiritual outlook were the keys to good health.

She saw me once a year for a physical. Her blood pressure was normal; cholesterol, PAP smears, breast exams, mammograms, and everything in between, always normal.

Then, during her sixth exam, I found a breast mass. She wasn’t worried, even when cancer was diagnosed. She underwent moderate surgery, but refused chemotherapy and radiation. Madge valued quality of life over quantity.

By the time gardens were harvested, Madge was bedridden, dependent on visiting nurses and neighbors. I’d make an occasional house call to check medications, minimize her complications.

In late fall, she called my office: “Please tell Dr. Babitz I need to see him.”

I drove to her home, realizing there was nothing more that modern medicine had to offer.

“I’m afraid I can’t do anything for you,” I said, a tear in the corner of my eye.

Madge, just a shadow of the woman I had met years ago, reached out. “Will you please hold my hand?

“Dr. Babitz, I just wanted to thank you for all you’ve done.”

I held her hand tighter and said a prayer of thanks that there would always be a kind of healing I could share with a patient.

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