Yasmine Mourad ’13 is determined to become an emergency room physician after having spent a semester observing at Morristown Medical Center. Here is her story.
By Yasmine Mourad ’13
“Doctor, doctor, the phone! It’s ringing!” The attending physician answered the phone in triage. His face turned intense. “Uh, huh … yes … wow… completely nonresponsive? … When did you say this all happened? … OK, see you in a few minutes … We are already preparing for her arrival.”
It had been an ordinary Thursday in the emergency room at Morristown Medical Center, just a few miles from Drew. I came to the hospital after my physics lab, put on my white coat and nametag and grabbed my notebook. I joined the physicians in triage and waited for one of them to whisk me away to see a patient. Throughout the evening I visited a number of patients, and now, in the last hour of my four-hour shift, the phone rang.
After the doctor snapped the phone down onto the receiver, he grabbed doctors and nurses and began preparing for the incoming patient. I didn’t want to get in the way, so I stood on the side and listened to the group of white coats in urgent discussion. I waited for what seemed like 10 minutes, but was probably just 30 seconds until finally a resident poked his face out of the crowd and told me they received a call saying that an unresponsive, possibly brain-dead, 40-year-old woman was being flown by helicopter to the hospital.
I was shocked; I immediately thought of my 46-year-old mother. About 20 minutes later, I watched medical technicians wheel the woman into the room the emergency room staff had prepared.
The woman didn’t have any family members with her. She looked young, and it was strange how she lay so limp, so still on the stretcher.
I am a neuroscience major at Drew and perform research in the field, so this woman’s medical case greatly intrigued me. There was the potential that she’d had a stroke, a medical problem I know about and can relate to, since my grandmother had suffered one. Immediately I felt for this lady. I thought, Does she have a family? Kids? Does anyone know that she is sick right now? Is she feeling pain or fear, even though she is just lying there motionless, with her head slightly cocked to the side? She looks … lifeless. She looks … dead. I wanted to tell her, “Please don’t be scared. These doctors will help you.”
Ever since I was a young girl, I knew I wanted to be a doctor. When I was 6 years old, I even practiced on my dolls. “Q-tips … check. Cream … check. OK, Yashu, don’t cry, I won’t hurt you,” I softly mumbled as I prepared my doll for dental work and minor surgery on his arm. The surrounding pink walls were my operating room, the rough sofa was my operating table and my grandfather was the nurse. I went to work with great concentration, while reassuring Yashu I would not hurt him, he would be OK, I would be done soon. I wanted to calm Yashu’s fear, make him comfortable and make sure that he liked me, even though I was performing surgery on him without anesthetics.
Now, years later, I again had the chance to practice my bedside manner when I was selected for the Morristown Medical Center Mentorship Program, a semester-long opportunity at Drew that allows students to shadow emergency room physicians. For students planning to become physicians, this is a remarkable opportunity to get a taste of what it’s really like to be a doctor.
Participants get to see everything, and I mean everything. I followed doctors into patients’ rooms, and what I witnessed behind the curtains was always a surprise. Some cases were gruesome. Others were just plain weird. I saw a man who had dropped a chain saw on his leg, the cut penetrating his skin and muscle, exposing the bone, yet he told the doctors that he didn’t need any pain medication. He just wanted it cleaned up.
But of all of the patients I saw, none stick out in my mind more than the 40-year-old woman who, the doctors confirmed, had suffered a stroke. As she lay in her hospital bed, doctors and nurses tended to her while other doctors calmly discussed her condition and still others talked on the phone. It was like a scene out of a movie, and I was the invisible bystander watching everything happen.
Finally, one of the physicians had some free time, and he asked me if I knew what brain region might have been damaged, based on the symptoms the patient was exhibiting. I thought back to Professor Christina McKittrick’s systems neurobiology course, and remembered how the symptoms the patient exhibits after a hemorrhagic stroke are indicative of where the bleed in the brain may be. Since this woman was not responsive to any stimuli and had to be given multiple shots of epinephrine to keep her heart beating, I guessed the stroke was near the brain stem, the most critical part of the brain. The doctor nodded his head “yes” quickly, and went back to the patient. We knew that she had gone out for a walk and had collapsed, and had been in this condition since then. The intensity of her case was only heightened once her family—two daughters, ages 12 and 22—arrived at the hospital. I thought, What if their mother dies?
We learned that the daughters no longer had contact with their father and had no family members in the area. I put myself in their place, and tears came to my eyes. I realized that while physicians have to worry about helping the patient, they often need to tend to the patient’s family as well.
After an hour of watching the doctors analyze the tests they had ordered for the woman, my shift was over. But I needed to stay. I needed to know what would happen.
I ended up staying past midnight, watching a neurosurgeon drain the woman’s brain of blood in an effort to save her life. Blood was flowing out of a vessel in her brain and had started leaking into the hollow spaces, quickly building up pressure within her skull. Physicians were prepared. They knew the chances she would survive were slim, but they performed the procedure anyway. I had to go home. It was almost one o’clock in the morning.
During my next shift that weekend, I found out that the woman had passed away the morning after she arrived. Thoughts rushed through my head. I wished I’d had the opportunity to talk to her and her daughters. I had watched how the medical staff interacted with them, seeing the girls hug each other and then hug the nurses tending to them. I could feel the girls’ fear and the medical staff’s tension and intensity; I wanted to step into the situation and do something, but I could not. I was nothing but a bystander, watching the chaos unfold in front of me.
Yet that tragic mother’s situation taught me a lot, and confirmed that not only do I want to become a doctor, I want to become an emergency room physician. I’m determined more than ever to complete my medical studies, and care for those who need it most.