As I was ready to retire,I wandered back into the past, when I realized, I had served not only as a witness to the significant changes in women’s health over the past forty years but in the late 1970’s and 80’s, I had taken part in leading the revolutionary changes in obstetrical care. This professional journey started with the emotional requests of my patients, who—and rightfully so—wanted to have control over their childbirth experience.
They were disillusioned with the routine practices of the cold, sterile childbirth experience provided by the hospital and were looking for a nurturing bonding experience. This request for change propelled me onto the unexpected path of becoming one of the advocates for and an early practitioner of new childbirth practices at my hospital.
This book is about my patients, whose stories made me think beyond what I had learned in medical school and residency training, an education which is, mostly, focused on medical diagnosis and treatment. As I understood my inadequacies and limitations as a physician, I learned that patients comprehend if physicians do not have all the answers.
My patients taught me how to recognize that there is a whole person behind every condition and each patient has a story. These life stories play a significant role in a patient’s complicated decision-making process, a process that needs to be understood, and heard. Despite this understanding and to my disappointment, there were occasions where I failed to understand and validate my patients’ concerns and needs.
As I was contemplating writing this book, I struggled with which stories to tell. I chose stories of patients whom I had followed for most of their lives. These were the stories that involved some of the more complex life-altering conditions, such as losing a baby, confronting a diagnosis of cancer, understanding the elusive science of depression, making difficult decisions before undergoing surgery, or merely trying to make sense of the changes during different stages of transition in life.
When faced with the challenges of illness, grief, or death, many people learn more about themselves. I was in awe of many of these women, who in the face of adversity were able to show grace under pressure, determination to heal with the strength of steel, and exhibit hope even when the odds were stacked against them.
During the recount of patient's life stories, I was inevitably led to narrate the contemporary history of medical and technological advances made in the specialty of OB-GYN over 40 years and my role in the early participation of those advances at my institution.
I address how the lessons I learned from my patients also helped me understand: the deficiencies in our healthcare system, the physician-patient disconnect, and the need for teamwork from all sides, while always placing the patient at the center of the hub. My desire to change and meet these challenges in our healthcare system led to my greater involvement in Ascension Health, one of the largest health systems in the country.
As I started to write this book, I was drawn to describe my journey growing up in India and my adopted home, the United States. In recounting this journey, I was surprised to learn how my life’s experiences intertwined with my patients’ experiences as I faced the challenges of my mother’s illness, my father’s dementia, cancer in the family, and my health issues.
My patients may never understand how they touched my life and how they inspired me to strive to become a better physician and hopefully a better person in our journey together, and this book is my tribute to them from the depths of my heart. ** **