Thursday, June 4, 2015

10 two-letter words

As the intern, resident, and students were scrambling around all day gathering bits of data, doing procedures, adjusting dials, or questioning what was happening, in would walk the Dr. Leeper, the attending who had all the answers. He acted with grace and equanimity. His actions and mantras held us accountable while letting us see the bar we could achieve.

In those first days with him, while presenting a case, I would stumble with some lab tests, or relate that the outside records weren't available, or discuss some imaging that was missing or delayed. He found out that I was staying back in code situations, watching the action, and encouraged me to be part of the team. He would never berate me or anyone, he simply made it clear that there was no room for excuses, for not holding yourself to the highest professional standards.

"Messler, I know that the ICU rotation is difficult, but let me share with you a secret about medicine. You need to know these 10 two-letter words... 'If it is to be, it is up to me.'"...

And then I saw a few beads dripping down his brow, sweat that belied the calm. He looked at the situation, and decided here was one without answers.

Maybe not everything is up to me, that sweat said. Not everything is in one's control, and some things just aren't meant to be.

The patient didn't survive that code.

The stoic ICU attending, who knows all, doing major national research, winning teaching awards (he won many golden apples), was not at complete ease in the most critical of moments. And that was OK.

If it is to be, it is up to me.

But sometimes it's not to be...

He probably wouldn't have remembered me from my brief stint in the ICU, but I've remembered his lessons and carry them with me to this day. I walk proudly, I hold myself accountable, and I enter the room with calm, and sometimes a little sweat.


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