“These are not just numbers. I want to tell the stories of each person,“
–Marie Colvin, Deceased War Correspondent
Pulmonary edema, heart failure, ventricular tachycardia, pulmonary hypertension, acute respiratory distress syndrome, and pneumothorax are medical terms to the data scientists (more accurately “strings”) working on AI in medicine projects. These are, however, medical issues that I suffered this past week as I learned that I had developed acute mitral regurgitation from a chordal rupture of my mitral valve and needed urgent open heart surgery. While these are medical terms, people suffer to yield these terms. It is daunting to not be able to breathe and become air hungry, for instance, with pulmonary edema (you literally feel like you are drowning). In a special way, I feel even closer to my own patients with congenital heart disease now as I have had the same journey as they have. So for my data scientist and artificial intelligence colleagues, please remember that these medical terms all signify human suffering and pain.
For my clinician friends, we still need to be even better at being compassionate with situational awareness. Occasionally, we talk about patients as if they are inanimate objects. The most egregious example for me this week was the ambulance ride during which the EMTs were talking casually about another patient with cancer that they transferred earlier as if I was not there. The conversation further deteriorated into their favorite taco place near the hospital that they were heading towards. Although the level of care they provided was fantastic, and the jobs they do are extremely stressful, I couldn’t help but think of the lack of situational awareness as I was struggling to breathe and knowing that I will have urgent heart surgery. As a totally different juxtaposition to this ambulance ride with insensitive conversation, the nurses and doctors who stayed up all night taking care of me were outstanding. Their compassion and patience was inspiring as my dignity headed to its lowest level (when you need someone to help you wipe your bottom, with gauze in your nose to stop a nosebleed, there is no pride left). Ironically, some of we humans need to be more like machines: functional and quiet but without exuding insensitivity.