An open letter to our local medical community – by Jing Hughes, MD PhD

The victim […] this Monday was a friend of mine. I have been reflecting on this tragedy and grieving his loss at multiple levels. He was a professional violinist and beloved music teacher to my daughter. He was a first-generation immigrant with a loving family, a devoted wife who was a pianist, and a daughter in medical school – a bright young lady who is an aspiring surgeon. As the breadwinner father and support for two sets of ailing parents, he put onto himself an extraordinary amount of financial, physical, and emotional burden. He worked multiple jobs and suffered chronic pain in his back and shoulders – which in the past few months has limited his ability to play the violin – complete agony to someone who loved music deeply. They sought help from orthopedic surgeons, from pain clinics, physical therapy, and psychiatrists. No definitive treatments were given. When his physical pain mounted to psychological pain, he could not access a mental health professional in a timely manner and instead was given merely a phone consult and no treatment plan. His wife states that in the last few weeks, he alluded to being frustrated and unable to cope with the pain. She had taken him to urgent care on Monday morning – they gave him Vicodin. He left the clinic and headed to our hospital. I don’t know what final thoughts were in his mind, but can assume that they were of despair and helplessness, and incredible sadness.
The medical community had failed my friend. This was a soft-spoken man with a good mind and a good heart, who should have been allowed to live as he wanted, free of pain and mental anguish. Instead he was shoved from one specialty to another, while none of his doctors had realized the depth of his suffering.
I reflect on his death as a sobering reminder to us as medical professionals, to always treat the patient as a person, to take seriously any complaint of chronic pain – physical or psychological, and know that what we see in subspecialty clinics are only one aspect of their affliction. I also urge us to improve patients’ access to care, to streamline our referral system so that patients are seen in a timely manner. These are actionable items that can make a difference in people’s lives and prevent future tragedies. We have seen similar tragedies among our own – with the crisis of depression and suicide sweeping the medical community. Often these are preventable by identifying warning signs, intervening early, and restoring hope. Let us all do better.