Misfortunes Messenger: Doing the Hard Thing for the Right Reason
I watched as the young woman waited patiently for her initial obstetrics visit. For the sake of this story, we’ll call her Andy.
Sitting upright with her hands clasped on her lap, Andy gazed around the room; the nervous tapping of her foot seemed to hoist the corners of her mouth as a bright smile overtook her face. Her big brown eyes glistened with tears under the florescent waiting room lights. She’d been waiting for this moment for years.
She and her husband had been trying to conceive for a long time. She suffered from polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a hormonal disorder common among women of reproductive age, which had made her journey to this point long, uncertain and, often times, heartbreaking. But after countless attempts to conceive, she finally felt the joy of staring down at a pregnancy test with a positive blue line. Her dream had come true and, shortly thereafter, she called to make an appointment at the small clinic I worked in.
Her soulful eyes rose to meet me as she rose from her chair. Seemingly weightless, she floated across the room and into our office. She’d arrived at eight weeks gestation for her initial checkup, which included an ultrasound for dating.
I worked as a scribe for this doctor, and I’d seen her do many initial ultrasounds. When new patients like Andy arrived I could almost feel their excitement seeping into me, and I was thrilled to see the same osmotic effect on the doctor. Each time she captured proof of new life growing – no matter how many times she’d done it before – a smile would overwhelm her. She was genuinely excited every time and, today, with Andy sitting happily before her, I could barely contain myself.
Here was a happy, healthy young woman who wanted nothing more than to have a baby of her own. Her expression personified the kind of elation that drew me to medicine in the first place. It was beautiful.
As the doctor performed the ultrasound, looking for a heartbeat and to measure the size of the fetus, I stood breathlessly nearby.
“Where’s the typical excitement in her voice?” I wondered. “Why isn’t she smiling?”
Andy’s voice broke my spiraling train of thought. “Is everything okay?” she asked.
My heart began to sink. Joy had departed. The search for life had come up empty, and Andy would not be holding her newborn baby in seven months.
To this day, the ensuing half hour is a bit of a blur in my mind. I know the doctor told Andy that the fetus had died around 5 week’s gestational age. I know they talked about removing the remains and future conception. I know that, as I walked out of the room, I was dazed.
But we were on to the next patient. I would process later.
“I don’t know if I want to be a doctor.”
As I drove home that day, that was all I could think. I don’t know if I can handle giving a mother that news.
I saw myself in Andy’s chair. My mom and dad had tried for years before I was conceived, and I feared that it might happen to me someday. I feared that I would be in that waiting room, tapping my feet and smiling; sitting poised as the doctor searched for the first images of the greatest gift I could ever imagine; devastated when the search came up empty.
How could I tell someone that the child they had longed for – that they had literally prayed for -- would not be in their arms? How could I try and remain positive, explaining that they can try again; that 1 in 3 pregnancies doesn’t survive to 12 weeks; that it was normal?
The more I thought about it, the more I became convinced. I had to become a doctor.
If I were sitting in that chair – if I was Andy -- I would want someone who understood what I was going through sitting across from me. I would want to look into the eyes of someone who had empathy for me. I would want the person sharing some of the worst news I would ever receive to do so in the most loving, kind and honest way possible.
So here I am, at Pacific Northwest University, learning how to do the hard thing for the right reason.
Osteopathic Medical Student - 2nd year (OMS II)
College of Osteopathic Medicine
Pacific Northwest University of Health Sciences