IES Santiago offers a clinical observations program for future healthcare professionals. We explore the Chilean healthcare system by observing medical professionals in private and public hospitals, clinics, and health centers all around Santiago. Yesterday I observed in the neurology unit in Hospital Sótero del Río, a public hospital that provides care to 10% of Chile’s entire population! Here is one of the most impactful experiences that I have had thus far from the this week’s clinical observations:
It was a moment where the language barrier didn’t matter. It was as if the entire world stopped, even just for that split second in time. The regulated beeping of machines continued and brought me back into the reality of the present moment.
“Se falleció,” the nurse shared. I hadn’t even heard of that verb before, but the shared response of the hospital room was enough to know. Their faces dropped– every patient, kinesiologist, therapist, doctor, nurse, tech, and visitor. My own heart sunk, too, and it was a strange feeling. I had seen the patient in a coma just minutes before the news broke. I had no connection to her nor to her family. I didn’t even know the state of her condition and, yet, I could still feel the pain. It was a purely human moment.
The therapy sessions progressed, the conversations continued, and life at Hospital Sótero del Río went on, as it always does. I briefly departed my current observation to confirm what I thought was the situation. I went next door to the room of 6 neurology patients to find the loved ones of the deceased woman grasping onto her in the hospital bed, still so close and yet so far from her last breath. The nurses, tears in their eyes, continued their routine duties in preparation for the next patient to take her very place in the already-crowded room.
It felt so human. As future health professionals, we talk a lot about how to separate our feelings from our jobs and how to not bring our work home with us. We will evidently become a bit desensitized to the looks and groans of agonizing pain of our patients, even the sight of death of a patient whose life we have fought and cared for. In this moment, however, I don’t believe the nurses or doctors were worried about hiding their sadness or avoiding the emotions that were provoked. Instead, I saw sympathy and understanding. I saw gentle looks exchanged between medical personnel and the loved ones of the woman. I heard the booming noise of silence that resulted from a lack of any words that could have possibly alleviated the pain of the situation.
I, too, felt helpless. Even if I had the words in Spanish, I wouldn’t have been able to convey them in a way that could have helped anyone. There was no easy fix. Death is a reality of life, but it was a beautiful moment of unity and humanity that exists apart from language or culture. It was simply an aspect of “ser humano” (being human).