BE 2024 Conference

An Accidental Mentor

Dec 15, 2021

Several years ago I was on my way to pick up my son from preschool before doing an overnight shift at the hospital. As I approached a stoplight, I saw a car speed through the intersection and strike a pedestrian walking his dog.  I knew instantly the man was seriously injured.  I pulled my car over and rushed to help.   

I stabilized his neck, rolled him over, and went to work. He was unconscious and I began CPR until help came. As anesthesiologists, we are well versed in resuscitation, and so once the tools arrived, I helped the paramedics stabilize him until he was rushed off to a nearby trauma center.  

I was late to pick up my son from school and covered in blood. I dropped him off with the sitter, went to the hospital where I worked, and changed into clean scrubs. As I took care of patients overnight at our trauma center, I wondered about the man. I called the other hospital in the middle of the night to see if he had survived, and was told he was in surgery. He was alive, but had suffered major injuries. He was in serious condition and his survival was not promised. 

I didn’t know his name. And because I wasn’t officially his doctor, I couldn’t find out any more information. I watched the news and read the obituaries to try and find out what happened, but I never found any more info.  

Weeks turned into months. Every time I drove through the intersection, I said a prayer for him.  

Fast-forward six months. I was a junior attending, and I there was a patient death that shook me to my core. I felt numb. I felt guilty. I felt inadequate. I wasn’t sleeping well. I had three kids under 5, a new baby, and felt like I was a failure as a physician.  At the same time, I felt like I was failing as a mom. 

I didn’t have a mentor. I didn’t have someone to say what I needed to hear, which was ‘It is normal to feel so upset about losing a patient. You will come through this. You are OK. You are a good doctor. You are a good mom. Keep going.’  

Weeks later, on Christmas Eve, I was rushing home from the hospital to meet my family for our Christmas Eve service. I sat in the back of the church and tears streamed down my face. I felt guilt for not being with my kids that day; I felt immense sadness for the patient I lost in the OR. I felt sad that I felt sad at all, as I had so many blessings in my life.  I wondered if the decision to be a doctor was the right one. Should I quit? Would I finally feel like I was enough?  

As I pulled in to my family’s house to celebrate the holiday, my cell phone rang. A man said, “Is this Dr. Shillcutt, the anesthesiologist?” 

I could hear commotion in the background. He apologized for the noise and said he was about to have Christmas Eve dinner with his family. He said he was a retired attorney and had been trying to find me. 

His next words, I will never forget: “You don’t know me, but you saved my life.”  

I listened as he told me that he had spent several months in physical rehab and undergoing therapy to recover from the motor vehicle accident. He told me that he was back to doing his community work and doing the work he loved – donating free legal work to people through a local ministry. He told me his entire family was thankful for me, because they felt if it hadn’t been for my actions, he would not be at Christmas dinner this year. He thanked me for my gift to him. 

Then he said this: “It took me a while to track you down and find your phone number. Bystanders at the scene told me that while everyone stood in shock, you wasted no time.   

You ran to me.” 

I really can’t describe the feelings I had next.  I still struggle to put into words how much the timing of the phone call and his message meant to me.  

I sat in my family home that night with cousins and aunts and uncles and my own kids and watched all the people I love. I thought of the patient I was grieving over. I thought of my own kids. I thought of this man who I just happened to be at the right place at the right time to help enjoy another Christmas. I sat there with tears streaming down my face.  

I realized then that God has used this man to be my stand-in mentor.  Maybe you need stand-in too. Maybe these words will speak to you.  

What he really said to me was this: 

It is normal to feel so upset about losing a patient.   

You will come through this.   

You are OK.  

You are a good doctor.   

You are a good mom.   

Keep going. 

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