Every Life Matters: A Doctor’s Compassionate Message Of Seeing The Value In Each Of His Patients

Written by on March 31, 2017 in Hazards, Issues & Diseases, Health with 0 Comments

Rosemary Woods/Getty Images

By T. Jared Bunch | Everyday Health

I recently lost a patient I cared for — and friend — who was about my age. We met nearly a decade ago when he was a relatively young man.

He suffered from prior choices (recreational drug use) that had led to the loss of normal function of his autonomic nervous system. This part of the nervous system governs our heart and blood vessels’ actions, and controls all the aspects of our lives that we don’t think about, such as our blood pressure and heart rate.

As a consequence of his disease, toxic autonomic neuropathy, his blood pressure would become dangerously low when he stood up, and he would pass out. When he tried to exert himself or walk, his heart — rather than beating faster — would slow and pause, also causing him to pass out.

The first time we met, he came to my office with his mother, who pushed him in a wheelchair. He couldn’t walk. He was disabled and discouraged. He smelled of smoke and was disheveled. And he occasionally used street drugs as a way to cope with his disabilities.

He said, “Nobody wants to care for me. They’ve all given up on me.”


I looked at his mother, who said, crying, “Please help my son. We don’t have anywhere else to go.”

Regulating the Heart: No Simple Fix

I’m not a medical hero in this story. Unfortunately, trying to replace a person’s autonomic nervous system, which makes constant changes to blood pressure and heart rate on a minute-to-minute basis, is really hard. We can put in pacemakers to prevent the heart from slowing, and to raise the heart rate with activity. We can also use medication to raise blood pressure and minimize severe drops in blood pressure. But no matter how hard we try, the replacement therapies are never quite as good as the natural nervous system.

As the years have gone by, I’ve enjoyed seeing this patient. He was a kind soul who cared deeply for others — traits that his elderly mother echoed. He would come to visit in his wheelchair sometimes, or walking — supported by his mother — who was always by his side. She would become teary when he talked about his emergency room visits, and she would always ask me what else could be done.

Unfortunately, while in a rehabilitation center, he suffered from complications of a routine medical procedure and passed away suddenly. When I learned of his passing, I knew I had lost a friend who was much more than a patient. My thoughts also immediately turned toward his mother, and how she was doing.

For Patient Care, See Through a Parent’s Eyes

My friend was a person who wore scars on the outside because of choices he’d made on the inside. These were easily recognized and pointed out to him by many. He endured being chastised by physicians during patient care, and in emergency rooms, by other people. Most of his critics didn’t take the time to look inward and see the good inside him: the person he really was.

His true value as a person was immediately apparent to me the first day we met, when I spoke to his mother. She knew him on a level few others did, and she saw his goodness. She was willing to overlook his outward appearance.

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