There’s this scene in the movie Patch Adams where Dr. Adams (Robin Williams) connects with a Pancreatic cancer patient. The patient, having not smiled in weeks, bursts out laughing, momentarily forgetting the excruciating pain he’s been suffering .
It was a thing of beauty watching Patch crack up the poor guy. And you’d think us doctors need to make such connections with patients every now and then, even if its with someone who has something as dreadful as terminal cancer.
Well, a couple of days back we had a patient with Pancreatic Adenocarcinoma admitted for a Whipple’s on my floor. He was to have the surgery the very next day and was undergoing all the tests required prior to it. I was assigned to do a quick H&P on him and make the necessary calls to have the OR prepped for next morning.
Throughout the encounter, he remained emotionless, numbed by the discovery of his illness (made only a week earlier) and the poor prognosis it carried. I tried hard to make him somehow open up to me, but he just wouldn’t. He never even made eye contact through the half hour or so I spent with him. It seemed there was nothing I could do to brighten up his day, if only for a little while.
As I got his signatures on the consent forms and walked out of the room after wishing him luck with the surgery next day, I wondered why I could not do what Patch Adams did for his patient.