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  • Writer's pictureLaura Vater

My hospital orientation

On Thanksgiving week, six years ago, my mom was life-lined to a critical care unit. I was a first-year med student, and I remember only pieces of that first day: driving in a rush to reach her, trying to navigate the immense hospital, feeling utterly overwhelmed by medical jargon.

It was there, in her darkened room, that I received my orientation to medicine. I sat at her bedside, watching her breaths, jumping at each alarm, seeing blood drawn into tubes. It was an overwhelming place, with its own language that I could not speak. I was stoic at her bedside, yet cried myself to sleep each night.

Six years later, I know the lingo. I speak the language. I feel comfortable in that very ICU. But experiencing that fear and uncertainty as a daughter, on the other side of the bed, has stayed with me.

Sometimes I walk by her old room, to remind myself what it feels like to be on the opposite side of things. To remember that this now-familiar ground can be an overwhelmingly foreign place. To remember how it feels to hold your breath when doctors give results. To remember that the words I use matter. How I say them matters. They can multiply uncertainty and add to fear. Or they can clarify and comfort.

I want to remember that each patient is more than a room number. More than a problem list. More than a stop on my daily rounds. Each patient is a person. Someone's person.

I almost lost my person six years ago. Each day I'm grateful for her life and for a different perspective on hospital medicine.


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