Being a patient is involuntary – Christine’s story and what the compassion quotient feels like

This is Christine, the woman behind this photograph in the Regina Holliday-created group on Flickr entitled Patient Faces: A “stock reality” resource. This photograph of her has been getting off-the-charts traffic compared to my other photographs, all organically.

2012 Tib Fib Ankle Fracture 8483

She has decided to take the plunge into social media to tell her story, and is allowing me here, to rebroadcast it a little.

Her second blog post is about something I told her when she first broke her leg. When I was a third year medical student, I experienced a severe ligamentous tear or a fracture in my ankle that left me unable to walk for 6 weeks. Christine’s injury is much more severe, and in my first conversation with her, I told her, “be aware of the compassion quotient.”

In my experience I watched as the compassion “ran out.” Initially people around me were accommodating and supportive, but after a time, it was assumed somehow that I should not be incapable of walking anymore. It was if I had crossed the line from the injured to the “seeking secondary gain.” My last few weeks on crutches were spent on my OB/Gyn rotation in a very large urban hospital, where it was required that we at times run to deliveries. People were tolerant to a point, but this left a marker on my soul that I will never forget.

And sure enough, Christine reports the same experience.

Christine is still in the middle of the journey with 4 weeks (at least) left without weight bearing, and we talked some about what we should learn from this experience.

For me it is to remember that being a patient really is involuntary, people don’t want to be sick, and creating expectations for people as if they are healed when they are not may not help them heal faster. I also learned that there are people around us, all the time, who are not healed, but they keep it hidden because they too, have experienced the compassion quotient.

Social media is great in this case, because it’s helping Christine tell those around her (including me) that she is not yet healed in an authentic, personal way. There’s no ask except to be understanding.

What being an involuntary member of the health care system feels like

If you read the first post of her blog, which is the story that led up to the photograph above, you’ll see another aspect of the scary place that the involuntary patient lives.

Christine spent 7 days from injury to surgery, in severe pain, feeling every movement of her fractured (and as we found out later, shattered) bones (see the photo above). That’s the physical toll. There was an accompanied lack of information about what this would mean for her highly technically skilled career work.

This experience was nothing like a stock photograph. For me the over-the-top moment was the requirement that she come to the hospital 24 hours before for a pregnancy test, or they said, her surgery would be cancelled, even though she was totally immobile. How does a patient know that these are the kinds of test that can be done quickly right before a procedure? Answer: they don’t.

Back to Christine – and I’m going to quote a previous post I wrote about another good friend of mine:

Have you ever met someone that you instantly got along with, who’s super smart and gets all of your jokes, that you spend almost all of your time laughing when you’re with them, who exudes health physically and emotionally? That’s the kind of friend that Christine is for me. She’s also a daughter, a mother, and a girlfriend to great guy for whom the compassion quotient does not yet apply.

I couldn’t have predicted that Christine would be the next friend to demonstrate the compassion quotient and the impact of service (or lack thereof) in health care. I’m sharing her story because I care about this issue, I care about Christine, and all of the people who will come after her.

Those people are us 🙂


Ted Eytan, MD