By Sue Checchio, MSc
After a sudden illness while on vacation and an emergency scan that revealed a tear in her esophagus, Annie was airlifted to a trauma intensive care unit. By the time she arrived, in addition to the tear, she had sepsis, failing kidneys, and she suffered a heart attack.
Annie was unmarried and had no children. Her family lived out of state and, unfortunately, could not visit for weeks at a time. I was only able to visit with her once before the COVID protocol severely limited visitors.
How could her doctors know who our beloved Annie was, with almost no visitors to tell them, and a breathing tube that prevented her from talking?
I put together some details on a single sheet of paper to share about our friend, and had it prominently taped to a wall in her hospital room. My hope was that it would help the medical staff connect with Annie, the person, and to get a sense of the joy that she brought to the world. It read:
“My name is Annie and my friends wanted you to know this about me:
- I’m am a bright light in their every day.
- I am a writer — a phenomenal, creative, whimsical writer. I was the editor of some prominent magazines in my career heyday, which was a blast.
- I have a ton of friends: most of them are creatives. I am a published writer, as are many of my friends. I have a dear friend who is a New York Times bestselling author (many times over).
- I’m a super positive person. I don’t like gossip. I do, however, love to laugh and giggle and drink Prosecco.
- I live in an apartment in the Upper West Side with my two cats (who I miss very much). My sweet home is filled with light and plants and loads of color — from my furniture to my paintings.
- I am a great artist. My artwork is creative and happy and colorful — like me!
Please take good care of me — think of me as your favorite Aunt.
It’s easy for a patient to be reduced to an illness; a body in a hospital bed, wearing the same drab-colored gown as every other patient, with a breathing apparatus covering their face. A person who once cared about appearance wears no makeup; hair is left unbrushed, nails unmanicured, teeth left unbrushed. Patients blur together.
Humanizing a patient was a struggle before COVID. It is now more important than ever for us, as family, friends, or caretakers, to do what is within our power to help our loved ones. It may make a difference in a medical professional shifting their question from “How can I treat this disease?” to “How can I help this person?”
Sue Checchio experienced the unexpected deaths of her parents (aged 69 and 72) due to medical mistakes. Her desire to understand the medical “business” led her to Boston University, where she graduated with an MSc in Health Communication. Sue believes in the importance of education to empower patients and their loved ones.