Miracles in Medicine

Appreciating the Remarkable in the Routine

Last month, as my residency drew to a close, I braced myself for the final stretch of inpatient medicine of residency. Little did I know, the most profound lessons would not come from acquiring more medical knowledge, but from witnessing the everyday miracles in the care of my patients.

Residency is often a whirlwind of rotations, with residents typically spending only two weeks at a time on a given service. This constant change can make it difficult to form deep connections with patients and their families. However, in a twist of fate, my final six weeks were spent on the same team, with the same patients, allowing me to experience something profoundly different in these last weeks as a resident on the inpatient medicine service.

At first, the prospect of six continuous weeks on inpatient medicine seemed daunting. The intensity of care, coupled with the emotional and physical demands, loomed large. Yet, this extended period provided a unique opportunity to develop a meaningful relationship and witness the incredible strength and resilience of one particular family.

Isaiah, one of my patients, was hospitalized for aggressive cancer treatment—a last resort in his battle against the disease. His wife, Theodora, and their children, Jonah and Jennifer, became fixtures in the hospital room, their dedication and support unwavering. It was through this family that I learned the true essence of patient care, extending beyond the confines of medical treatment to the profound impact of human connection and support.

When I first met Theodora at the beginning of the six weeks, I was met with a multitude of questions. Isaiah had already endured a long hospital course, and the complexity of his many medical problems had accumulated along the way. She clearly cared deeply about her husband, but I remember feeling overwhelmed by the sheer volume of her questions. It felt as though there was a lack of trust in the medical team to do the right things. However, it soon became clear that her relentless questioning stemmed from a place of deep concern and love for her husband. Day by day, our relationship began to deepen in ways that transcended routine medical care.

Each day, I would come into Isaiah’s room, and Theodora was always at his bedside. For six weeks, there was not a single day that I worked where she was not there. At night, his son Jonah would visit and diligently work with his father, trying to get him physically stronger. On the weekends, his daughter Jennifer would drive from out of town to spend the weekend with her father. The dedication of this family to their father was profound and struck me deeply.

One morning, as I was making my rounds, Theodora and I had one of our first poignant conversations regarding her husband and his ongoing care. I had noticed she always wore a cross and I thought that, as someone who shared the same faith, this could be an important part of building a meaningful connection. That morning, we discussed the idea of miracles, and she admitted that she was indeed hoping for a medical miracle with the latest treatment we were giving her husband.

As I stood there, listening to her hopes and prayers, I thought about what it would mean to see a miracle in the care of this patient. After a little while, I turned to her and said, “Whether we see a miracle happen from this new treatment or not, I believe there is a miracle happening right in front of us every day. The miracle I am witnessing is your constant and unwavering presence by the side of your husband.” I went on to tell her that I truly believed that one day, when she looked back on this experience, she would appreciate the profound effect and transformation it had on her and the people around her, including myself. The miracle was in her day-to-day presence and dedication, not solely in whether the treatment would work.

During this conversation, Theodora shared with me how important it was to her that a provider offered this other dimension in the care of her husband. She expressed gratitude for acknowledging the emotional and spiritual aspects of their journey, which she felt were as crucial as the medical treatments. This holistic approach not only comforted her but also increased her trust in the medical team. She felt reassured knowing that we recognized and valued the comprehensive nature of care, which encompassed physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being.

This experience underscored the multifaceted nature and presentations of miracles in medicine. It’s not just about the extraordinary recoveries or unexpected remissions; sometimes, the true miracles lie in the resilience, love, and unwavering support of a patient’s family. Theodora’s faith and the family’s unity were powerful forces that contributed to Isaiah’s care. Their strength and dedication reminded me that miracles are often found in the everyday acts of love and compassion that surround the patient.

What began as a list of guarded questions turned into a powerful means to take care of Isaiah. Theodora’s dedication, Jonah’s nightly visits, and Jennifer’s weekly trips were testaments to the strength and love that can profoundly impact patient care. This experience highlighted that the real miracles in medicine often lie in the unwavering support and resilience of the patient’s loved ones. As healthcare providers, I do believe it is our duty to help patients and their families recognize that these everyday miracles of resilience and love are as vital and impactful, if not more, than any medical intervention we can offer.

As I begin my fellowship training in oncology in a few weeks, I carry with me the lessons learned from Isaiah and his family. I hope to provide holistic and compassionate care to all my future patients who will battle cancer, always seeking to recognize and honor the quiet miracles that occur in the everyday moments of patient care.

Written with permission from the patient and his family.