Thank you for saving me!

My name is Burke Kealey and I am a hospitalist.  I am honored to be blogging for the Society and to have the opportunity to have a conversation with you about the healthcare system and how we work with and serve our patients.  Now a story:

My patient “Sue” came in for a liver biopsy.  My job was to observe her overnight with a planned discharge in the morning.  She underwent the biopsy in the radiology suite and returned to the floor stable.  Her nurse called me urgently to the bedside an hour later as Sue was feeling dizzy and they were having trouble getting a good blood pressure. You all know what’s next.  Stat Hgb 5, palpable blood pressure, fluid bolus, stat CT showing blood in the abdomen, and back to radiology for embolization.  I came by to see her afterwards and in her post-procedure haze, she opened her eyes, smiled, and said. “Thank you, Doc, for saving me.”  All I could think of was, “Save you? Could I have caught it earlier?”  But when she expressed her gratitude that doubt was washed away by a mixture of embarrassment and pride.  There was some truth to her statement, but really, who saved whom?

It is during this time of Thanksgiving that we should all take a moment to cultivate gratitude.  A physician-centric thought often lurks just below the surface of our brains that our patients should feel grateful to us.  Just like Sue did for me, patients often reinforce this.  Who hasn’t felt that rush of positivity when one of your patients says, “Thank you, Doc.  You saved my life.”  Sometimes, it’s true.  We may have indeed saved their lives.  Often, we know we were just a part of the larger care team that helped.  More often, we know our patients mobilized their inner strength and innate healing ability to pull through.  We simply nudged them in the right direction.  Regardless, that outpouring of gratitude coming your way envelops and boosts you.  But what about the other way around?  Have you ever thanked a patient for saving you?  If you think about it, our patients are why we get to do this amazing job of being a hospitalist.  What kind of life would you be leading right now if you weren’t pouring your head and heart every day into this profession?

Our patients turn to us in their time of greatest need.  As a result, we get the opportunity to use all of our training and skills.  Our patients give us their trust.  We then get the privilege to tap into the very best of ourselves on a daily basis to do right by our patients.  Helping our patients gives us purpose and meaning.  It is this very purpose and meaning that enriches our professional lives. Would we dedicate our lives to this stressful job?  Would we spend long and hectic hours away from our families?  Would we patiently explain for the 10th time that week just what a “hospitalist” is because we know patients deserve to better understand the confusing care system around them?

So I ask you, when we use our skills and knowledge and heart to try to save our patients, who is really saving whom?

Happy Thanksgiving!

Burke Kealey

Burke Kealey, MD, SFHM is the Senior Medical Director for Hospital Specialties at HealthPartners Medical Group in Bloomington, Minnesota. Dr. Kealey began his career as a hospitalist in 1995 and has worked in medical leadership since 2000. In 2003 he was awarded SHM’s Award for Clinical Excellence. He has Chaired SHM’s Practice Analysis Committee and helped produce several of SHM’s Compensation and Productivity surveys. Dr. Kealey is a past president of SHM’s board of directors and has served as secretary and treasurer in past terms.

Dr. Kealey has a strong interest in ensuring that hospital medicine practices are effectively managed with a strong focus on the triple aim of affordability, great experience, and best health for our patients.

Raised in Texas, Dr. Kealey received his undergraduate degree from Texas A&M University, his medical degree from the University of Texas at Houston, and then moved north for Internal Medicine training at the University of Minnesota Hospitals and Clinics. While in chief residency he met his lovely wife Samantha, a Minnesota native and current Emergency Medicine physician. Together, they have 4 children.

1 Comment

  1. Jordan Messler Jordan Messler on December 2, 2013 at 1:28 pm

    Great piece, Burke. Certainly, many cases have me leaving the room a little happier than when I entered. We all too often recall and share the “thankless” cases. What a great idea to thank our patients. And certainly, our nurses, and ancillary staff, who we all too often take for granted. Thanks to them as well!

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