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I was chatting with a medic friend over breakfast this morning. He told me a great story that I thought I'd share with you.
A few days ago, he was on the ward and tried cannulating a patient. He tried once, and failed, and then tried again, and failed. Two sharp scratches – and more than likely two bruises – all for nothing. After these two attempts, he apologised to the patient, and called one of the doctors over to put the cannula in. He walked away from the situation feeling pretty down.
A few days later, he was back on the ward and the patient called him over. She was about to be discharged and wanted to talk to him.
"Thank you for what you did for me", she said.
"What do you mean?" my friend asked. "I failed twice and had to call for help!"
The patient smiled. "True, but while you were trying, you were talking to me, and that made me feel a whole lot better".
I found this story hugely illustrative. Firstly, it was a reminder that we're often our own harshest critics. Sure, he failed, but he was doing his best, and the patient recognised that. What we perceive as failures on our end may be viewed entirely differently from another person's perspective.
And secondly, it was a testament to the power of kindness. When we're nice to people, they'll often overlook our biggest failures.
One of the greatest joys of being a doctor is getting to make people feel better, and we can go about that in all sorts of ways. It can be tempting for us to focus on treatment given through a cannula, but my friend gave his own treatment (of sorts) simply by listening and being friendly.
Of course, that's not to say it's alright to repeatedly fail cannulas – it's an important part of our job to make sure that our technical skills are up to scratch – but it's a reminder that those technical skills are not the be all and end all.
PS: Since this event he's had three first time successes, and wants you to know that he'll be a good doctor. One day.
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