By Vanessa Galli, MD
Intern year has been full of so many meaningful human interactions; with my patients, with my colleagues and with my spouse. One patient interaction in particular, stands out as the one which has impacted me the most in both professional and in personal ways. A patient who is exactly my age, is struggling with an incredible battle with Type 1 Diabetes and its many related complications. She has spent much of the past year in and out of various inpatient medical units and ICUs. After I followed her for several weeks during one particularly complicated ICU admission, she became my clinic patient. I felt at a loss attempting to make sense of her complicated medical history and multitude of symptoms. Each time she was admitted to the hospital, I felt that I had failed her. On one particular hospital admission, I received the page that I had become all too accustomed to, that my patient had once again been admitted. This time though, the page was different. The sender was another Dr. Galli, my husband, who is a resident in another program.
My husband quickly understood why this patient had occupied so much of my energy and why I thought about her case so much outside of work, racking my brain, wondering if I was missing something. He took incredibly good care of her, and advocated for her exactly the way that he knew I would have. He reached out to me at one point and told me she was feeling frustrated and expressed that that she would like to see me. I visited her in the hospital as both her primary care doctor, but more importantly during that particular visit, as a friend. She explained how she was struggling with the complexity of the medical system and balancing an exhaustive list of specialty appointments. She expressed her frustration surrounding losing her vision and ability to drive a car and read. She described the continued nightmares and flashbacks that she was experiencing from her previous ICU stay. At that moment, I realized that, despite feeling overwhelmed by her medical complexity, I served an important role in her care as a primary care physician.
As I touched base with my husband about her plan of care moving forward, we discussed ways not just to help her medically, but also to assist her in navigating the medical system and ensure that the inpatient team’s plan could be executed in the outpatient setting. While we were approaching the same patient from two different thought processes, we were working toward a common goal. We were both immersed in the same complicated case at the same time, looking to each other for pieces of information to attempt to improve this patient’s quality of life. For the first time, we truly were interacting as colleagues within medicine.
People often bring up the point that it must be a challenge to be married to another physician, particularly during residency, a time of variable and frequently alternating schedules. Some days it certainly has been a challenge. The difficult days are those when our only interaction is passing by each other in the parking lot of our apartment complex, and the nights when we are both too tired to have much of a conversation or to even think of what to say unrelated to medicine. On the other hand, we both speak the same language. We understand when the other has to stay late or gets pulled away. We understand why a single patient can become so consuming of both mind and soul. We share a common goal and a common interest that at the end of the day is what drives us to both better ourselves and better each other, as individuals and as physicians.
Vanessa Galli, MD is beginning her second year as a Family Medicine Resident at the University of Utah School of Medicine.