Dominica, West Indies
|Photography by Cristian Bernal|
Over the past several months, I have come to the realization that when my role of medical student switches to patient, most of my rational medical knowledge goes out the window. Last month, my husband and I found out that we were expecting our first child. We had just started trying to conceive, and we were delighted about how easy it seemed to be. Immediately, I began to think excitedly of all the important decisions that needed to be made. We had baby furniture to buy, names to pick out, and so many other details to plan. It was going to be a fun nine months, and I wanted to cherish every moment of it. Each day, I wanted to have at least one conversation, idea, or plan that involved our future baby. My happiness and excitement consumed me.
Two weeks later, when I was six weeks pregnant, I woke up with cramping in my lower abdomen, which felt similar to menstrual cramps. I tried not to think much of it. As long as it was not accompanied with bleeding, I thought it was insignificant. The next morning, I started bleeding heavily, and did not stop for eight days.
I immediately called my obstetrician’s office and spoke with a nurse. She called the on-call doctor, who ordered an hCG lab test, which would determine if my pregnancy was viable. Two days later, I was tested again. Over the phone, the nurse informed me that my hCG hormone level was dropping—it was a miscarriage. “Since your body is taking care of it on its own,” she told me, “you do not need to see the doctor.” On hearing her words, all rational medical knowledge left my brain.
My mind began working in overdrive. I had no pressing medical needs, but I had so many questions. I began to analyze everything that I had done over the last two months. I wondered what I could have possibly done to cause such a horrible thing to happen. In the back of my mind, my medical training suggested that this was not my fault and that there was most likely something wrong with the embryo, such as a chromosomal abnormality. But it was so hard to convince myself of these proven medical facts. I was too emotionally involved to think medically, and I wanted some tangible answer to my burning question of why this happened to me. I felt lost, responsible, and empty. Like many confused patients, I turned to the Internet to search for answers to my overwhelming number of questions.
As time passed, the pain eased, and I was able to analyze my situation with a clear mind. I stopped blaming myself, and I was finally able to comprehend the medical reasoning behind this outcome. I decided to take something positive away from such a negative situation: I wanted to apply what I had learned to my future career as a physician.
My own miscarriage—with all of the vulnerability and apprehension it brought—helped me understand the kind of support and guidance that a woman experiencing a similar loss might need. Even though she may not require immediate medical care, offering reassurance and emotional support could be essential to her recuperation, helping her to avoid unnecessary blame and to alleviate fears about a future pregnancy. Taking the time to address a woman’s questions and fears is vital to a complete and healthy recovery, which should be the objective of any physician.
An office visit after a miscarriage also avoids patients’ having to search the Internet for answers. Luckily, due to my medical training, I was able to discern fact from fiction. Unfortunately, many patients cannot, which often results in more confusion and fear. It should be our goal as caretakers of these patients to ensure that they get the right information at the right time.
I am grateful for the amazing lesson I took away from my situation. Because of this, I know that I will be able to offer the appropriate support and much needed compassion to a patient experiencing a miscarriage, or any other emotionally stressful medical situation. As medical professionals, we should seize the opportunity to learn and grow from our own life experiences so that we become even better caregivers.
LAUREN FORE is a fourth-year medical student at Ross University, which is located on the Caribbean island of Dominica. From a farm in rural central Illinois, she is currently living in Chicago and finishing her medical school rotations. She is looking forward to obtaining a residency in family medicine in 2013.