The First Time I … Saved a Life by Accident

Dr. John Welshofer
Physician in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Carolina Neurosurgery & Spine Associates

Dr. John Welshofer

Chris Edwards

Patients affect doctors as much as doctors affect patients. There was one, an older gentleman, who I had treated on a few occasions for back pain. He came in one day with a complaint he wanted me to look at. He had already been to several other doctors but he wanted another opinion because something wasn't right. One doctor told him it was arthritis of the spine; others were kind of dismissive even.

Medicine is a very humbling field because when you're young and first out of training, you tend to think you know everything. But there are so many things we don't know, that you don't get exposed to in medical school. The more I do it, the more I realize how limited our knowledge is and how much we still have to learn. But I've always found that patients are pretty smart. So if they have an intuition about something, I usually follow that pretty aggressively. Sometimes the problem is that doctors aren't the best listeners.

So I examined him, and on a hunch I ordered an MRI of the thoracic spine. Opposite the spine, inside the abdominal cavity, is the aorta. The test revealed a large aortic aneurysm that was very close to rupturing. If it had, it would almost certainly have killed him.

I referred this patient to a vascular surgeon. He's still a patient of mine. Every visit since that one, when he comes in, he tells me I saved his life. He tells me that because of what I did, he has been able to enjoy his life with his wife, children, and grandchildren. Something he cherishes everyday. I think I was just doing my job but when I hear comments like that, I know that I made a difference. —As told to Jill Waldbieser

Three Keys to a Good Bedside Manner

  1. Take a seat. If you're sitting, patients don't feel you're rushing through the appointment.
  2. Make small talk. asking about a patient's family or job sets them at ease, so when you get to important questions, they won't be uncomfortable answering honestly.
  3. Reach out. always touch your patient. a brief handshake or pat on the knee conveys compassion.
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