It is Andrée’s birthday which gives me an excuse to once again write about her. I have already noted her many awards and honors, but Andrée is not a celebrity. The world does not know her, but she has important life lessons for all of us.
We are the same age and while I do not want her to feel old, her experiences reflect an earlier generation. I first saw her in the 8th grade and we attended the same high school in suburban New York City. Boys were academically dominant back then, and Andrée was the only girl in two AP classes. That would never happen today.
She has a youthful appearance but Andrée would not fit in with the current “Me Generation.” I will not embarrass her by relaying numerous examples, but she has always put her desires last. Her focus is on pleasing others, and she is the most unselfish person I know.
She is beautiful, intelligent and talented, and I am not exaggerating. Andrée is still a size two, she is a summa cum laude Duke graduate, and she won the Gold Medal at the U.S. National Swimming Championship.
She is on sabbatical now and I have told her to write a book because the stories of her medical career are so compelling. They involve the gamut of emotions, and reveal human strengths and weaknesses. In her Critical Care Unit (CCU), skill, knowledge and experience are always important, but Andrée stood out because of her profound sensitivity, empathy and what is inside her heart. Here are some other reasons she is so remarkable.
A CAREER DEDICATED TO SERVICE: Medical care is not similar to investment banking, business or the legal profession. It is not for people who want to be rich or famous. It instead attracts those who want to make a tangible difference in the lives of others. With the exception of specialty surgeons, few people are well paid and there are no end of the year bonuses, company jets, ornate offices or expense accounts.
Andrée treated patients regardless of their income, and her career has been intense, fast-paced and high-risk. At her busy hospital the staff has to contend with long shifts, stress, heavy works loads, and schedules that call for working on nights, weekends and holidays.
CARING IS A PRIVILEGE: The hospital staff was often told to avoid getting too attached to patients. It was a recommendation Andrée never followed, and it was impossible after all the time, energy and commitment she devoted to patients.
She obviously cares too much, but she would not have it any other way. Andrée believes that if you don’t become attached you are in the wrong profession. Her secret in caring for a patient was to care about the patient. That often meant being emotionally available when patients and families were coping with fear, anxiety and confusion.
To Andrée, caring for patients is a privilege, and going to work was similar to being with a second family. Positive feedback was great when it happened, but in the CCU the patients were too sick or overwhelmed to give much in return. The price of compassion was often shared grief.
SHE HAS MADE A DIFFERENCE IN SO MANY LIVES: We all know successful people but few of them have actually saved lives. Patients would frequently arrive in the emergency room who were only a few minutes away from being declared legally dead. Andrée had to quickly assemble surgical teams in the middle of night and when the patient left the operating room her job was far from over. She spent countless hours making sure the patients body temperature did not rise because that would have resulted in brain damage.
SHE HAS THE RIGHT VALUES: Dying is a part and parcel of living, but it confronted Andrée on a daily basis. CCU patients would frequently ask her “Am I going to die and if so how much time do I have left?” Andrée did not lie and often the truthful answer was “I don’t know yet.” Many of her patients could tolerate and accept the inevitability of their illness.
She knew it was impossible to cure everyone, but all of the patients could be comforted and she helped family members cope with the unbearable. She has been with hundreds of patients as they began their slow embrace of death.
It deeply impacted her to leave a reasonably stable cardiac patient at the end of a shift only to discover they had died when she checked in the next morning. It was painful to lose a patient, but the families knew everything possible was done to ease the suffering of their loved one and they were always treated with respect.
HER RELIGIOUS FAITH: Many of our conversations have been about Christianity, and she has definitely helped with my spiritual growth. Andrée has taught Sunday school for eleven years and now leads a Bible Study Group.
We all know people who profess to be Christians but they rarely act in a Christian manner. Andrée is just the opposite. Most people do not know about her religious beliefs, but everyone realizes she is a good person because her actions speak far louder than words.
Andrée has a strong relationship with God and she doesn’t need the trappings of organized religion. She attends church regularly but that does not make her a Christian. Andrée and her family have participated in all of the Christian rituals — baptism, confirmation, bible study, church attendance, etc. Those are good things, but they are not essential. What is essential is that she has clearly accepted Christ as her Saviour.