Tales of Survival: An Autumn Dinner

May 22, 2009

bellevue.jpgBellevue Hospital, the nation’s oldest public hospital and the heart of our residency program, provides unique and unforgettable training for new physicians.  It is probably safe to say that every resident who trains at Bellevue graduates with a lifetime of stories about the experience. “Tales of Survival” was created to convey some of those experiences.

Melissa Price MD

 The sun had already set that Friday afternoon when I entered the great revolving doors of Bellevue Hospital surrounded by the disintegrating, once-vivid, fall leaves. Fatigued, I was headed for another shift as night float admitting resident. Almost as soon as I entered the resident call room, my pager buzzed with an inappropriately happy tune. I was given a bolus of two admissions; Mr. and Mrs. G, 76 and 72 years of age respectfully, being admitted under the guise of malaise. “Are they related?” I asked the medical consult. “Not sure, but the ER is crazy right now so go and see them,” she said. I traveled into the ER, so filled with patients that it appeared a human highway in rush hour.


I began my interview with Mr. G, a thin older male with a pleasant face. His daughter, with whom he and his wife lived, had been by hours earlier to supply the medical history and medication list for each of the patients. I asked him why he was here and he replied that he was tired and that his daughter brought him in because of this. He told me that his daughter had left hours ago. Mrs. G, a frail woman with deep laugh wrinkles around her eyes, gave a similar history. Their laboratory results, vital signs, EKGs, and chest X-rays were largely normal, with abnormalities only significant for their respective chronic disease states. Why were they here? Was I missing something? How odd for two patients to be brought in at the same time? Had one of them caught something from the other? I suspiciously examined them, one after another, like a high-profile investigator. I had nothing. I could not figure it out. I finally found the ER nurse amongst the chaos of the sick and asked her if she had spoken with their daughter. She had indeed met her with a strong hunch that the harried daughter had to leave town for the weekend and did not know what to do about her elderly parents.

Nevertheless, I continued my investigation without success and ultimately placed the couple on their daily outpatient medical regimens. I figured that if there was something to find, it would reveal itself in due time. My pager sang again. I began my next admission.

Hours later and more exhausted, I was walking through the medicine ward with my homemade sandwich, looking for a corner to indulge myself when I caught a glimpse of Mr. and Mrs. G in their room, laughing together as they prepared to eat their hospital provided dinners. Despite their opposite sexes, they were placed in the room as husband and wife. They had arranged a little dining area in their room and welcomed me inside. I asked them how they were feeling. “Just fine, it looks like you are about to eat too, why don’t you join us for dinner,” Mrs. G said with her finest smile. While trying to think of what to say, how to politely excuse myself, I instead pulled up a chair.

I could hear my mother’s voice in my head relaying her remedy for all forms of “malaise.” “Sit down at the table and eat something, you’ll feel better. Eat something!” Not only were my patients cured of their malaise, but I found that I was too.

Dr. Price is a third year resident in internal medicine at NYU Medical Center