It is possible for a physician to have feelings of loss when a patient improves

It is possible for a physician to have feelings of loss when patients improve.

The following is a post that was in the IBDList. Tom, the list moderator, added the comment at the end set off by brackets. The IBDList is a very valuable Maillist server for people interested in Crohn’s and colitis. If you like the sort of stuff you see here you would like to get the IBDList.

[Unfortunately, the IBDList stopped publishing a number of years ago – Ed.]

I had an interesting emotional response recently with a patient who was put into remission by surgery. This woman had her first attack of Crohn’sabout a year ago. She did well with steroids, almost came off prednisone after a slow taper, then went back on with a flare. On attempting to retaper she had another flare that turned into abscess. Surgery was required. The Crohn’s diseased tissue was very thickened, and perhaps it would neverhave healed with medical treatment.

I had seen her about once ever month or every other month during this time and I got to know her well. When she came in for the post op checkup she was off all her medications and doing very well, eating anything she wanted, all the visible steroid effects gone. While I should have been happy that she would not have to see me anymore, I found myself somewhat sad. It was feeling the feeling of loss.

Clearly what was happening was that the patient and I had been having success at dealing with the Crohn’s, and much of the satisfaction for me was the continued followup and advice that kept her going and the improvement she had following my advice. Knowing that I would not have to do that any longer was, I think, the basis for this. I think another aspect was that she came to surgery without my having given the advice. Having a patient go sour is disconcerting to the physician (certainly more so to the patient), but there is something of a feeling of “how dare that Crohn’s disease get worse just as I was dealing with it.” Part of GI training is to have the knowledge that surgery is not an evil to be avoided, but rather a tool to be used as needed.

I recall a post Tom put up on the IBDList a while back about havinga feeling of loss when in remission from IBD. The loss was in not doing the dietary restrictions and other things that had become routine, or familiar,to daily life.

Oh, the reason I put this up is that this is a list about IBD, living with it, and treatment of it. While I don’t think there is anything in this post that will affect what anybody does, it is the case that IBD affects many people besides the patient, and the physician is one of them.

Stephen Holland, M.D.

[ Thanks for an interesting perspective. I know that when a GI I had been seeing for a number of years retired, I missed him as a person as much as missing the physician. I never considered that he also might have feelings of the loss of day-to-day contact with his set of patients.

Diabetics these days often have a team of professionals helping themwith their disease since it affects so many areas of physical, emotional and spiritual life. In a way it is too bad that the medical community often doesn’t take a more all-encompasing approach to diseases such as IBD that are influenced by more than just the steriods or sulfa drugs. Maybe one day the insurance companies will realize that a combination of treatments, along with a healthy look at eastern or alternative medications and procedures can actually be cheaper than the most common methods of symptom-treatment or emergency-care medicine. -tom]


Update: 7/1/2019

I wrote this years ago. Now, about 20 years later, this feeling of loss doesn’t happen. But now patients are on immunosuppression, surgical procedures are followed by continued follow up for regular follow up. We realize there are so many things we do and look out for in our IBD patients that we don’t have patients that don’t need to see us after surgery. We continue to see our patients to keep recurrence rates low. It’s a different time now, with continued improvements in the outcomes of our patients with IBD


Author: Stephen Holland

Stephen Holland, M.D. went to medical school at Northwestern University in Chicago, then did his medical residency at Loyola in Maywood (just West of Chicago). He then did research at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, did his GI fellowship there, and went to the University of Illinois at Peoria to teach and do research. He ran a successful private practice for over 12 years in Naperville, Illinois. Most recently he is an Assistant Professor of Medicine at SIU School of Medicine and is in practice in Decatur, IL