Since the beginning of the 21st century, palliative care has emerged as a prominent aspect of medicine. Palliative care focuses mostly on improving the quality of life in severely ill patients, but it also involves comfort-based care for terminally ill patients. Despite increased awareness of palliative care among health care providers, decisions made in respect to end-of-life treatment are often difficult because they can be subjective.
“Did you see any COVID-19 patients today?” my wife nervously asked as I entered our home. I was clad in an N-95 mask for the first time. “Not yet” I replied.
My mask and her concerns were well-warranted; we were about to be first-time parents, and she was in her last trimester. Our relatives and friends would routinely ask, “When is your gift from God coming?” and we always cautiously replied, “Anytime now, just pray—you know how times are….”
I am Sandipan Shringi, MD, a final-year resident in Internal Medicine at Saint Vincent Hospital in Worcester, Massachusetts. I am originally from a small town in India. My path towards medical practice began when I was 16 years old. As you will learn, my journey as a physician began dangerously and has taken unexpected paths.
The COVID-19 patient did not speak English, so we communicated using a translator phone. He taught me a few words and sentences so that I could ask simple questions to other patients who shared his native language. “I can’t breathe” were the last words that I could understand before he was intubated. I wondered if he ever imagined that his last words would be spoken to someone who did not speak his language. Did he imagine that he would be taken care of in his final days by someone born thousands of miles away?
Unlike many of my colleagues in the medical field, I took a very unconventional path through my postgraduate training. Throughout medical school, I was convinced I was destined to be a surgeon. I loved anatomy, loved my surgical rotations, and thought that this was my destiny. Then on my first day as a house officer in general surgery, I stood for 9 hours in a laparoscopic hemicolectomy, without any breaks for eating or going to the bathroom, and suddenly my life choices became much less clear. I struggled a while longer, but eventually I put away my scalpel, took up my neglected stethoscope once again, and I took up a formal internal medicine training post in New Zealand, starting on another journey. Everything started to make sense for a change. The flow of hospital medicine, the critical thinking, the lack of having to stand in an OR for several hours with a full bladder and an empty stomach, it all finally came together. As it turned out, one shake-up was not enough, and as I rotated through stroke and neurology, I found a hidden interest that I wished to take further. Being inspired by some American mentors, I decided to apply for training in the USA, and began residency at the University of Texas (UT) Health Science Center, San Antonio Texas in June 2018. After all my continent hopping and specialty changes, at last I seemed to be on the right track.