Dedication and Commitment.
We see stories about physicians all the time. Occasionally we find one that truly stands out.
Humans of New York started as a photoblog and book of street portraits. It was created by photographer Brandon Stanton. It has a tremendous social media following. In May of 2016 it ran a photograph and one paragraph story on Dr. Michael P. La Quaglia, Chief Pediatric Surgeon at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center:
“The absolute best thing in the world that can happen to me is telling a parent that their child’s tumor is benign. I live for those moments. And the worst thing that can happen to me is telling a parent that I’ve lost their kid. It’s only happened to me five times in thirty years. And I’ve wanted to kill myself every single time. Those parents trusted me with their child. It’s a sacred trust and the ultimate responsibility is always mine. I lose sleep for days. I second-guess every decision I made. And every time I lose a child, I tell the parents: ‘I’d rather be dead than her.’ And I mean it. But I go to church every single day. And I think that I’m going to see those kids in a better place. And I’m going to tell them that I’m sorry. And hopefully they’ll say, ‘Forget it. Come on in.’”
This one paragraph speaks volumes as to the level of dedication that physicians have for their patients. It is this sentiment that illustrates that medicine is not an occupation, or a job, but a calling. Dr. La Quaglia brings everything to the table, literally and figuratively, for his patient. He speaks of the trust between a surgeon and patient. It is even more significant when a parent trusts a physician with the most important part of their life, their child. Dr. La Quaglia states that he will sometimes tell the parent as he is carrying their child into the surgery suite, “Your daughter is now my daughter.” He is often asked how long will the operation take? He answers, “We will do whatever it takes, as long as it takes.” This is not an empty statement or slogan, because he is operating on small patients with tumors that are adhered to vital organs, or have micro-metastasis that need to be cleared.
His personal commitment is reflected in his lament when the worst happens. As physicians, when something bad happens to our patient we look inward. We want to understand what happened, and we want to make sure it does not happen again. It is a deeply personal, soul searching, character probing process. We are taught during training that this process is necessary, and is part of being able to better serve our next patient.
This is one of the tenets that make medicine and surgery so different than other vocations. It is the years of training under stressful conditions that allows us to function well under stress. It is the commitment to lifelong learning to always be more knowledgeable, more expert, and just plain better. We sacrifice what is necessary to do this. We give everything we have, so that we may best serve others.
At its best, Medicine affords us the privilege of benefiting, and sometimes saving, a patient’s life. The comments after the article posted on social media came pouring in:
“Yes, but then there’s kids like me that you saved 18 years ago. There’s (sic) so many more of us.”
“Dr. La Quaglia saved my life almost 9 years ago when I was diagnosed with a pancreatic tumor…he’s still one of the people who just make this world a better place.”
“Dr. La Quaglia saved my son’s life August 24, 2004…God bless Dr. LaQuaglia!”
These are the stories that sustain us. The knowledge that what we have done, sacrificed, and learned has made a difference in another’s life.
In this era of medicine and surgery where distractions abound, let us all be like Dr. La Quaglia and remember who we have the ultimate dedication to -- our patients.
Jeffrey Roth, M.D.
Clark County Medical Society