Feeling Cared About
Your compassion completely changed the situation…
Helga Yang: My name is Helga, and I am a patient at Penn Medicine.
Matthew Beshara: My name is Matthew Beshara, and I am a Obstetrician Gynecologist at the University of Pennsylvania. I suffered a COVID infection with complications of a stroke. And it has subsequently affected my medical career. And my story was heard by a former patient of mine, Helga.
Hi Helga, it's good to see you again.
Helga: I don't know if you remember me, but you did a procedure. It was supposed to be routine but it had a very unfortunate, unexpected outcome. I had a seizure coming out of anesthesia. And what specifically stood out for me was the way that you took care of me. And you just showed so much care and compassion that it completely changed the situation.
Matthew: Well that's gratifying.
Helga: The reason that I reached out is that I listened to your story about having COVID, and not being able to perform surgery now. It really impacted me. I felt the sorrow, and I was obviously very heartbroken. I actually I experienced a loss along with you.
Matthew: Thank you.
Because of my own experience, I'm very interested to hear the salient points of care that I delivered to you that got you to the point where you felt safe, and you felt taken care of.
Helga: Well, for starters, I had been through five previous surgeries prior to the one you performed. So I have quite a bit of comparison points. What really stands out for me personally is, here’s where something very serious happened — not your fault, obviously — but the way you responded to it, you didn't come out being defensive. And you didn't try to push the blame on anyone else.
You explained, “This is what happened and we're going to take care of you. We're going to do everything we can to make sure that you're okay.”
It was very sincere. It actually surprised me that I wasn't upset over the situation. And I think that goes on to show how much you can make a difference by what you do, how you present yourself.
Matthew: I probably was a little bit fearful for you as well. In my life as a surgeon, I've had people have cardiac arrest. I've had people have seizures, like you. I've had people have complications here and there. It's always very scary from the doctor or physician and surgeon side as well. You just fear for the person.
I would sometimes in my head think, “Why am I doing this? Who told me I could take care of people to this capacity, and put their life in my own hands?”
And you start questioning the power or the gift that you have. And when you see a complication like that you start to fear the worst is imminent. And you really worry about someone's mortality.
Helga: You showed so much concern. And it really showed that there's a human there.
A lot of times doctors put up a wall. You don't really get that connection. I have to say it's a lot harder to be mad at someone who you have a connection with.
Matthew: Yeah. It does make a difference. You know, I was in the ICU for many days, and I had a lot of complications. Some of the attendings that took care of me, one in particular, was very humanistic. She held my hand. She told me, I had a stroke, she spoke to me like a person. She cried with me.
I was so hungry for a human touch. It was the middle of COVID, so I didn't see my family. I knew I was in the hospital that I worked in, surrounded by people that loved me or supported me. But I didn't feel a connection to anybody, other than my team. And I remember my nurse, I held his hand, and I said, “Don't ever leave me again.” I was so hungry for feeling a connection.
Just recognizing that person as a person, and not a patient, can really be important.
It was for me, and it sounds like it was for you.
When I listened to your story, I was kind of expecting more of a cautionary tale like “Hi, I got COVID, I recovered everyone, get your shots.” And to hear that you've been so profoundly affected by it, I personally felt the loss. And I think the whole patient community has experienced a loss too.
Matthew: Well, I appreciate that.
The thing I miss the most about practicing medicine is I miss seeing the patients, and taking care of people like you, and making them feel safe, to be honest. All I would have wanted was to take good care of people, but also to make you feel you were well taken care of.
Helga: Well, I would actually change the wording a little bit. Instead of “caring for,” I’d say “cared about.” I felt that I was more “cared about” then “cared for.”
Matthew: Well good.
Then my work is done here.
Now that I’m in the twilight of my career, and my career in medicine is most likely over, I’m able to look back, and reflect. And so I feel really gratified by the outpouring of patients like you. I don't think many physicians and surgeons get that feedback. And it has made the end of my career, which I felt, like, ended very abruptly—it has given it some closure, that I didn't expect.
And you have helped.
The Penn Medicine Listening Lab is a storytelling initiative that embraces the power of listening as a form of care. While the stories featured here aspire to uplift and empower, they may also describe experiences of trauma and suffering. We recognize that listening can be a vulnerable experience and offer resources at Penn Medicine and beyond through our website for those in need of support.
Tags: Compassionate Relationships