Monday, September 26, 2016
ldquo;Believe half of what you see and none of what you hear.”
A few years back, I was in clinic and went into a room to listen to a patient's heart sounds (*details changed to protect anonymity). A resident physician working with me that day had already seen the patient first. Before I entered the room, he'd described everything about the past medical history including an “easily audible” heart murmur. Even though it was pretty straightforward, I still wanted to listen. And so I did.
“It is an early peaking, systolic murmur,” he said as we walked up the hall, “radiating to the carotids. But super loud.” That description was suggestive of a narrow aortic valve. I figured that a murmur this loud had been assessed with imaging in the past.
“Did she get an echocardiogram?” I asked. The 2-dimensional ultrasound of the heart, or echocardiogram, visualizes the blood flow and the heart valves. Though the physical findings lead us to where we are going in heart disease, actual images tear the roof off of the sucker to confirm things. The clinic was busy. And this was an upper level resident. So I cut to the chase. I wanted the echo results.
“She did,” he replied. “I need to double check the final read but I'm pretty sure it confirmed aortic stenosis.”
“Do you know how severe?”
“No. I'll have to look again when we go back into the room. But I know she doesn't have any symptoms, which is good.”
So he went on to tell me a few other things about her before we reached the room. After a quick knock, we entered the clinic room together. Nothing about it was unusual.
“Hi there, ma’am. My name is Dr. Manning and I'm one of the senior doctors in the clinic working with your doctor. We always put our heads together about your health and figure 2 brains are better than 1.” She smiled and I smiled back. After a quick review of her concerns and the plan of care, I reached into my pocket to pull out my stethoscope. “Mind if I listen to your heart?”
“Not at all,” the patient replied. “Guess 4 ears is better than 2, huh?”
I chuckled and nodded while placing the rubber tips of the stethoscope into my ears. And honestly? I wasn't even thinking too hard when I did that. I reached over to her chest and searched the classic listening areas, aortic, pulmonic, tricuspid, and mitral, with the cold diaphragm.
The whole “not thinking too hard” thing wasn't because she didn't matter. It was just that I'd heard the story and exam already, including the echo results. This was mostly a formality, honestly. I even made a comment about the pretty necklace she was wearing as I slid it out of the way to reach her chest. The patient began sharing that she'd splurged on it during on a vacation once and how she hasn't removed it since. I raised my eyebrows and nodded, then lifted one finger to let her know we'd need to hit the pause button for a few moments.
You know. So I could hear the murmur that already had a diagnosis.
And so. I lean in and quickly listen. And just like that, I recognize that what I was hearing isn't at all what had been described to me. I raised my eyebrows. “What did you say this murmur was from?”
I squinted my eye and listened again. “Hmmm. This murmur sounds diastolic to me. Hmmm.”
“She definitely has aortic stenosis. I heard a crescendo-decrescendo murmur. And it was during systole.”
“Okay.” I carefully listened again. I then felt the patient's pulse and listened some more while timing it out with the rhythm of the heart. And still what I heard sounded like the flow of turbulent blood during the relaxation phase of the heart cycle. I listened some more. And then once more. “Aortic stenosis, huh? Okay. I guess my hearing is off today.” And that was that.
I conceded since I knew that the imaging supported his assessment. But honestly? That murmur sounded nothing like what he was saying to me. The whole thing made me uncomfortable, especially feeling so off on something like this, a bread and butter physical finding.
“Yup. Stenosis. But let me just confirm how severe, okay?” He pecked into the computer and clicked a few screens. And while he did, the patient asked a few questions.
“Is my heart okay?”
“Have you been told about your heart murmur?”
“We're just talking about your heart murmur. That's just the flow of blood rushing over your heart valves. Have you been lightheaded or dizzy?”
“Naw. Never that.”
“Okay. We're just checking to see how narrow your heart valve is but it sounds like this is an old issue, okay?”
“Oh alright then.”
She asked a few questions about aortic stenosis and what that meant while he moved through screens to confirm for me the final reading on the echocardiogram images. Since I was less occupied, I pitched in and explained. Even though my ears were telling me of a different diagnosis.
So as we discussed all of that, suddenly I notice a funny look on the resident's face. “Oh must've misread that,” he mumbled to himself. “Um, Dr. M? It's actually moderate to severe aortic regurgitation.”
He said that right after I'd finished my soliloquy on aortic STENOSIS and right after I'd finally talked myself out of what I knew to be true based upon what I'd heard with my own ears.
And no. It didn't turn into a big thing with the patient at all. I apologized and told her that I'd misspoken and that her heart murmur was more of the kind you get form a leaky heart valve instead of a narrow one. My face felt like it was a million degrees. She laughed and said, “I was wondering. I been told before my valve was leaky. I ain't never heard of it being stiff and narrow before so that was news to me.”
So here's my point of telling you all of this:
The things that happen to me at Grady are simply metaphors for life. Trust your gut and what you know. Listen with your own ears and then listen again. Believe your ears, especially when they've heard a lot of things. Same goes for your eyes. But especially believe yourself even when odds stack against what you think. That is, when you feel sure.
I doubted myself. And honestly? It wasn't even a soft call. I felt embarrassed for my initial instinct to doubt the echo report when I shouldn't have. I shouldn't have at all. Plus, I hadn't seen that echo result with my own eyes. That's a lesson, too.
And no. I am not always sure. But this time I was. And I'm still mad at myself for not laying down my nickel and betting on me. I recognize it's okay to be wrong. But I think my “ah hah” moment is in that I need to be just as okay with being right.
Does this even make sense?
As for my resident, I gave him some feedback. I'm pretty sure he, too, convinced himself of what he heard based on what he thought the images showed or could have just been so junior that he misjudged what he heard altogether. So yeah, I gave him feedback right away. But as I did, I showed my own clay feet and revealed what I'd done wrong as well. I'm senior to him yet I needed him to understand that even after 20 years of being a doctor, we are still works in progress. I let him know that being scared of looking silly isn't a good reason to not push when you feel pretty sure. And mostly, I was sure, even though I was being told otherwise. I was just two seconds away from saying, “Well, I don't know what that echo is saying, but this murmur isn't consistent with aortic stenosis at all.” But I didn't. After all, the echo said it was aortic stenosis.
That is, until it didn't.
Kimberly Manning, MD, FACP, FAAP is an associate professor of medicine at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, Georgia where she teaches medical students and residents at Grady Hospital. This post is adapted from Reflections of a Grady Doctor, Dr. Manning’s blog about teaching, learning, caring and growing in medicine and life. It has been adapted and reprinted with permission. Identifying information has been changed to protect individuals’ privacy.
Contact ACP Internist
Send comments to ACP Internist staff at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- A message to all of those eager young medical stud...
- Palliative care is our responsibility to patients
- Are doctors paid too much?
- Diets, doubts, and doughnuts: are we truly clueles...
- The often murky and insincere world of physician r...
- Teaching the history of present illness
- Overtreatment and unnecessary medical testing? You...
- No way out
- Politics, propaganda, and perspective: how prevent...
Members of the American College of Physicians contribute posts from their own sites to ACP Internistand ACP Hospitalist. Contributors include:
Albert Fuchs, MD, FACP, graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles School of Medicine, where he also did his internal medicine training. Certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine, Dr. Fuchs spent three years as a full-time faculty member at UCLA School of Medicine before opening his private practice in Beverly Hills in 2000.
And Thus, It Begins
Amanda Xi, ACP Medical Student Member, is a first-year medical student at the OUWB School of Medicine, charter class of 2015, in Rochester, Mich., from which she which chronicles her journey through medical training from day 1 of medical school.
Ira S. Nash, MD, FACP, is the senior vice president and executive director of the North Shore-LIJ Medical Group, and a professor of Cardiology and Population Health at Hofstra North Shore-LIJ School of Medicine. He is Board Certified in Internal Medicine and Cardiovascular Diseases and was in the private practice of cardiology before joining the full-time faculty of Massachusetts General Hospital.
Zackary Berger, MD, ACP Member, is a primary care doctor and general internist in the Division of General Internal Medicine at Johns Hopkins. His research interests include doctor-patient communication, bioethics, and systematic reviews.
Controversies in Hospital
Run by three ACP Fellows, this blog ponders vexing issues in infection prevention and control, inside and outside the hospital. Daniel J Diekema, MD, FACP, practices infectious diseases, clinical microbiology, and hospital epidemiology in Iowa City, Iowa, splitting time between seeing patients with infectious diseases, diagnosing infections in the microbiology laboratory, and trying to prevent infections in the hospital. Michael B. Edmond, MD, FACP, is a hospital epidemiologist in Iowa City, IA, with a focus on understanding why infections occur in the hospital and ways to prevent these infections, and sees patients in the inpatient and outpatient settings. Eli N. Perencevich, MD, ACP Member, is an infectious disease physician and epidemiologist in Iowa City, Iowa, who studies methods to halt the spread of resistant bacteria in our hospitals (including novel ways to get everyone to wash their hands).
db's Medical Rants
Robert M. Centor, MD, FACP, contributes short essays contemplating medicine and the health care system.
Suneel Dhand, MD, ACP Member
Suneel Dhand, MD, ACP Member, is a practicing physician in Massachusetts. He has published numerous articles in clinical medicine, covering a wide range of specialty areas including; pulmonology, cardiology, endocrinology, hematology, and infectious disease. He has also authored chapters in the prestigious "5-Minute Clinical Consult" medical textbook. His other clinical interests include quality improvement, hospital safety, hospital utilization, and the use of technology in health care.
Juliet K. Mavromatis, MD, FACP, provides a conversation about health topics for patients and health professionals.
Dr. Mintz' Blog
Matthew Mintz, MD, FACP, has practiced internal medicine for more than a decade and is an Associate Professor of Medicine at an academic medical center on the East Coast. His time is split between teaching medical students and residents, and caring for patients.
Toni Brayer, MD, FACP, blogs about the rapid changes in science, medicine, health and healing in the 21st century.
Vineet Arora, MD, FACP, is Associate Program Director for the Internal Medicine Residency and Assistant Dean of Scholarship & Discovery at the Pritzker School of Medicine for the University of Chicago. Her education and research focus is on resident duty hours, patient handoffs, medical professionalism, and quality of hospital care. She is also an academic hospitalist.
John H. Schumann, MD, FACP, provides transparency on the workings of medical practice and the complexities of hospital care, illuminates the emotional and cognitive aspects of caregiving and decision-making from the perspective of an active primary care physician, and offers behind-the-scenes portraits of hospital sanctums and the people who inhabit them.
Ryan Madanick, MD, ACP Member, is a gastroenterologist at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, and the Program Director for the GI & Hepatology Fellowship Program. He specializes in diseases of the esophagus, with a strong interest in the diagnosis and treatment of patients who have difficult-to-manage esophageal problems such as refractory GERD, heartburn, and chest pain.
Mike Aref, MD, PhD, FACP, is an academic hospitalist with an interest in basic and clinical science and education, with interests in noninvasive monitoring and diagnostic testing using novel bedside imaging modalities, diagnostic reasoning, medical informatics, new medical education modalities, pre-code/code management, palliative care, patient-physician communication, quality improvement, and quantitative biomedical imaging.
William Hersh, MD, FACP, Professor and Chair, Department of Medical Informatics & Clinical Epidemiology, Oregon Health & Science University, posts his thoughts on various topics related to biomedical and health informatics.
David Katz, MD
David L. Katz, MD, MPH, FACP, is an internationally renowned authority on nutrition, weight management, and the prevention of chronic disease, and an internationally recognized leader in integrative medicine and patient-centered care.
Richard Just, MD, ACP Member, has 36 years in clinical practice of hematology and medical oncology. His blog is a joint publication with Gregg Masters, MPH.
Kevin Pho, MD, ACP Member, offers one of the Web's definitive sites for influential health commentary.
Michael Kirsch, MD, FACP, addresses the joys and challenges of medical practice, including controversies in the doctor-patient relationship, medical ethics and measuring medical quality. When he's not writing, he's performing colonoscopies.
Elaine Schattner, MD, FACP, shares her ideas on education, ethics in medicine, health care news and culture. Her views on medicine are informed by her past experiences in caring for patients, as a researcher in cancer immunology, and as a patient who's had breast cancer.
Mired in MedEd
Alexander M. Djuricich, MD, FACP, is the Associate Dean for Continuing Medical Education (CME), and a Program Director in Medicine-Pediatrics at the Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis, where he blogs about medical education.
Rob Lamberts, MD, ACP Member, a med-peds and general practice internist, returns with "volume 2" of his personal musings about medicine, life, armadillos and Sasquatch at More Musings (of a Distractible Kind).
David M. Sack, MD, FACP, practices general gastroenterology at a small community hospital in Connecticut. His blog is a series of musings on medicine, medical care, the health care system and medical ethics, in no particular order.
Reflections of a Grady
Kimberly Manning, MD, FACP, reflects on the personal side of being a doctor in a community hospital in Atlanta.
The Blog of Paul Sufka
Paul Sufka, MD, ACP Member, is a board certified rheumatologist in St. Paul, Minn. He was a chief resident in internal medicine with the University of Minnesota and then completed his fellowship training in rheumatology in June 2011 at the University of Minnesota Department of Rheumatology. His interests include the use of technology in medicine.
Technology in (Medical)
Neil Mehta, MBBS, MS, FACP, is interested in use of technology in education, social media and networking, practice management and evidence-based medicine tools, personal information and knowledge management.
Peter A. Lipson,
Peter A. Lipson, MD, ACP Member, is a practicing internist and teaching physician in Southeast Michigan. The blog, which has been around in various forms since 2007, offers musings on the intersection of science, medicine, and culture.
Why is American Health Care So Expensive?
Janice Boughton, MD, FACP, practiced internal medicine for 20 years before adopting a career in hospital and primary care medicine as a locum tenens physician. She lives in Idaho when not traveling.
World's Best Site
Daniel Ginsberg, MD, FACP, is an internal medicine physician who has avidly applied computers to medicine since 1986, when he first wrote medically oriented computer programs. He is in practice in Tacoma, Washington.
Other blogs of note:
American Journal of
Also known as the Green Journal, the American Journal of Medicine publishes original clinical articles of interest to physicians in internal medicine and its subspecialities, both in academia and community-based practice.
A collaborative medical blog started by Neil Shapiro, MD, ACP Member, associate program director at New York University Medical Center's internal medicine residency program. Faculty, residents and students contribute case studies, mystery quizzes, news, commentary and more.
Michael Benjamin, MD, ACP member, doesn't accept industry money so he can create an independent, clinician-reviewed space on the Internet for physicians to report and comment on the medical news of the day.
The Public Library of Science's open access materials include a blog.
One of the most popular anonymous blogs written by an emergency room physician.