This physician almost died in her own hospital — what she learned from the experience

Rana Awdish, MD, a critical care physician at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, shares how her own near-death experience inspired her — and the hospital — to provide better patient care in an article published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

In 2008, Dr. Awdish almost bled to death when a tumor ruptured in her liver, sending her into multisystem organ failure at Henry Ford Hospital. She received 26 units of blood, was put on a ventilator, suffered a stroke and lost the baby she had been carrying for seven months. Dr. Awdish's recovery included five major operations and she had to relearn how to walk and speak.

"[A]s a patient, I learned things about us — physicians and other medical professionals — that I might not have wanted to know," she writes in the article. "I learned that though we do so many difficult, technical things so perfectly right, we fail our patients in many ways."

Dr. Awdish discovered numerous shortfalls in communication, uncoordinated care and an apparent lack of empathy through the experience. In one instance, she was shocked to overhear a physician describe her as, "trying to die on us" — a phrase she admitted to using during her critical care fellowship.

She also details damaging phrases colleagues used like, "Are you sure your pain is an eight? I just gave you morphine an hour ago," and describes feeling helpless when trying to solve billing issues over the care of her unborn baby.

The experience changed Dr. Awdish's vision of who she wanted to be as a physician and what she wanted her organization to embody.

"As systems, we have to recognize and acknowledge our mistakes, our shortcomings, just as individual physicians do," she writes. "We need to reflect on times when our care has deviated from what we intended — when we haven't been who we hoped to be. We have to be transparent and allow the failure to reshape us, to help us reset our intention and mold our future selves."

Henry Ford Hospital responded to Dr. Awdish's experience by revising employee "onboarding" training and creating new training programs focused on empathetic, coordinated care.

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