UT-VMC emergency room tails: hiding behind a smile—a tribute

UTVMC COLUMN HEADER  2By Dr. Amanda Rainey

Rob was such a big help to me when I was a new doctor and beginning my internship. I had all this knowledge, but no practical experience. It’s definitely a challenge for those just starting out to marry the two.

Rob had a huge smile with shining white teeth that contrasted sharply with his dark skin and even darker braids that hung down his back, collected together at the nape of his neck with an always brightly colored hair elastic. I remember the first night I was charged with emergency duty. He happened to be in the group of students working with me. I’ve always attracted a steady flow of patients and this evening was no exception. We had received at least four cases, all of which were somewhat critical. As another patient arrived at the front desk, I could feel my cheeks flush and the look of concern I wore has been reflected back to me many times on the faces of the interns I work with every day.

“You OK, Dr. Rainey,” Rob asked, flashing his million-watt smile.

“I think so Rob. I’m just a bit overwhelmed,” I said quietly, trying my best to write sensible ICU orders for one of the patients we’d recently admitted.

“It’s going to fine. We just have to take them one at a time. And look how good we are doing: all our patients are here in the ICU and have every chance to make it,” he replied sagely, words spoken like a man who’d been doing it for 10 years, not just a few months of clinical experience as a student. I nodded and went back to writing my orders, but his words instilled faith in me that I could make it through the night. It also gave me the courage to face the next case.

Rob sailed through his clinical year with many accolades and much appreciation from faculty and staff at the UTVMC. I always enjoyed taking time out to speak with him and catch up on how he was doing. He never hesitated to help us out on an emergency, even if he was not assigned to it. He accepted a residency position in laboratory medicine at another university upon graduation. We were all proud when he headed off to accomplish his dream of working in research.

It came as a complete shock to me when I learned of his passing, less than eight months after graduation. He had been found in his truck on the side of a deserted highway. He took his own life.

I’ll never forget the chill that swept through my heart and the sadness that filled me in learning that such a promising young man was no longer with us. No one had any inkling that he felt such despair. I think this is quite common in the medical profession, both human and veterinary. We give so much of ourselves to care for others that often we don’t leave enough behind to sustain ourselves. I learned so much from Rob about attitude and now I had learned that his cheerful outlook had hid unbearable pain. He taught me how important it is to be kind to those you work with and to always try to see behind the smile in case there is someone else feeling as hopeless as he did.

(Dr. Amanda Rainey, DVM, is a clinical assistant professor in the small animal clinical sciences department at the University of Tennessee Veterinary Medical Center in Knoxville.)

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