Connecting with My Patients

David Adinaro - Florham Park, New Jersey
As heard on The Bob Edwards Show, March 18, 2011
David Adinaro

Despite working in one of the busiest hospital emergency rooms in New Jersey, Dr. David Adinaro believes he must make time to fulfill more than just the medical needs of his patients. He also wants to comfort them with a simple act of human kindness.

Age Group: 30 - 50
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I believe that, as a doctor, I should always get a blanket for my patients who need one. Yes I know there are other people who can do this. I can ask a nurse or an orderly to do it, but I believe that I should do it. So several times a day, while working in our emergency department, I leave my patient’s bedside, get them a nice warm blanket and cover them up, before continuing on my day.

This action goes along with what I believe to be the three rules of emergency medicine (and perhaps medicine in general). I repeat these often to the residents and medical students I supervise in our busy urban emergency department.

I tell them: (1) we make people feel better; (2) we try to make sure nothing really bad is happening to them right now; and (3), we try to tell them what is causing their symptoms. I say that we can almost always achieve the first two rules but not always the third. No news is usually good news from an ER doctor. If I find a reason for, say, your abdominal pain it is rarely a good thing.

Which brings me back to why I believe I should offer to bring my patients a blanket. To me it is the first step in communicating to the person that my priority is his or her comfort, both physical and emotional. It is a simple act that acknowledges my desire to meet their basic needs as a patient. It may be an overused expression but I want to treat my patients the way I would want my family members taken care of. This behavior was also modeled for me when I was a patient.

Shortly after college I was involved in a serious accident while working in an ambulance as a volunteer. The short story is that I broke my femur, the large bone in my thigh, and my recovery required a total of four surgeries over a year or so. The surgeon who performed the last three operations (and to whom I credit my ability to now walk unaided) usually did his rounds late at night.

He was a brilliant and talented surgeon who reminded me in appearance of a chain-smoking Einstein. He would ask about my pain and my mental state, but what I remember most is his offering to bring me French fries the next time he visited. I felt that he cared about me and, more importantly, understood what I was going through. He connected with me, and I trusted and obeyed everything he told me to do.

Getting a blanket and placing it on my patient is, in the end, a check and balance for me. I have the power to order hundreds of tests and treatments. I strive to always be right (or at least never wrong). And on not so rare occasions, I help save a life. But in the end, if I have not made that connection with my patient, if I have not shown them I understand their needs, then I have failed them as a physician and as a person.

David Adinaro is an emergency physician and chief of adult emergency medicine at St. Joseph’s Regional Medical Center in Paterson New Jersey. A life long resident of the state, he is married and has four children.