Dr. Awdish to speak on empathy, agency and 'In Shock' at Literati

Monday, November 27, 2017 - 11:59am

I’ve grown up around more than my fair share of doctors. My grandparents, my cousins, my mom — they’re all in medical professions, and they’ve all taught me more about empathy than anyone else ever could. I think there’s a misconception that all physicians are detached or indifferent to the humanity of their careers, despite the profession lending itself to being one of the most compassionate, human ways of going through life.

In her book, “In Shock: My Journey from Death to Recovery and the Redemptive Power of Hope,” Dr. Rana Awdish details this gap — the cavity that exists between what practicing medicine can be versus what it often is. It’s a first-hand account of her switch from physician to dying patient. Striking in its sentiment and unflinching in its honesty, the novel is a roadmap for medical caregivers, telling a story that’s all too familiar yet hasn’t been properly listened to.

Dr. Awdish currently works as the Director of the Pulmonary Hypertension Program at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, and she was recently named the entire Health System’s Medical Director of Care Experience. In her novel, she details the events following her arrival at Ford as a patient, pregnant and near-fatal. Losing her child and clinging to her own life, Awdish recounts the ways in which her profession both saved and failed her.

“It really changed my perspective of how healing happens,” Dr. Awdish said in a phone interview with The Daily. “Before I got sick, I thought it was just about the medicine and the treatment. After I got sick, I realized how much healing really needs to happen in the context of the relationship. Although the healing potential of medicine is remarkable, it can’t function in a vacuum.”

She reflected on hearing phrases like, “she’s trying to die on me,” and the moments in which she realized that the failures happening to her as a patient were her own failures as a physician as well.

“We get the clinical aspects of care right, but our patients can end up scarred by our words and how we communicate,” she said.

In sharing her experience, Dr. Awdish hopes to tap into the human aspect of medicine that’s often overlooked.

“The hospital that I work at, Henry Ford, had asked me to speak at the National Sepsis Day (in 2014),” she remembered. “They really wanted a patient’s perspective on sepsis. Sepsis was one of the conditions that I had had, and I realized when I was preparing the talk that everything I wanted to say was really about communication.”

She notes the turning point in which she knew she needed to put pen to paper.

“When I did that presentation in front of my hospital, I put words on the screen of things that I had heard. That was really the moment that I realized there was value in telling the story,” Dr. Awdish reflected. “So many people approached me afterwards and just had similar stories or times when they were providing care that they didn’t feel went well, and they carried so much guilt about that.”

Dr. Awdish still has faith in medicine. This conviction is part of what makes her story so compelling, so resilient and so inspiring. She understands the inherent benevolence of medical professions, and she understands the work that needs to be done to preserve it.

“I still think that medicine is one of the most beautiful career options that exists,” she said. “There’s a lot of talk about burnout in medicine, and that it’s not how it used to be, but it’s still one of those magical places where science and humanity and people really come together in a beautiful way.”

Coming to discuss “In Shock,” Dr. Awdish will speak at Literati this Thursday at 7 p.m.