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How empathy and compassion saved my life

Elke Hutton's story on Compassion
Elke Hutton
CMA Patient Voice Patient Partner SHA Provincial Ethics Committee Co-Chair PFCC Committee Prince Albert

When I lived in Richmond, BC, I was looking for a new GP after my old one told me he wasn’t my mother when I came to him for reassurance that I would be ok during an elective procedure. It turned out my Spidey sense was correct, and I was not fine. I ended up with an awful reaction to an anesthetic, which left me bedridden with severe pain for almost a year and a weight-loss down to 95lbs. I had to shop in the kids’ section for clothes. To say I was scared was an understatement and even more so when everyone in the medical field who should have helped me shrugged me off as a complainer and turned their back on me. I felt abandoned at the greatest time of need and truly thought I would die.

I patched together my precarious medical care at walk-in clinics until I met Corey, a young physician who just started out his career. He promised me he would take on my case and would try to find out what happened. My stress levels were through the roof, causing all kinds of horrific symptoms. My illness coincided with the traumatic death of my first stepson, my grandmother’s death and my husband’s cancer journey and lung problems on top of my own struggles.

“He truly saved my life by unconditionally accepting me as his patient.”

Dr. Corey Hambleton researched until the cows came home. He ran every test he could think of. He truly saved my life by unconditionally accepting me as his patient. Never once did he judge me, but he realized I was traumatized and needed help.

Dr. Hambleton created a team-based clinic long before it became a catchword and a “revolutionary” idea. In the center of his office is a Pilates studio he put in to keep himself strong. He has a massage therapist, nurse practitioner, a registered psychologist, a physiotherapist, and other helpers on staff, providing care to his patients as directed by him, because we all need a broader treatment approach and team-based care. Including him.

He had this gift and somehow saw right through me. He gave me supportive hugs and allowed me to sit in his office day after day, because he understood I needed help from someone. He even invigilated exams for me in his scent-free office at a time when I was strong enough to return to online studies at UBC, since any public place could not be controlled for perfumes. It was because of his help I was able to resume my studies towards my degree. I graduated in 2011 and it took me 10 years, but I did it. Corey enforced my abilities by helping me work through my disabilities.

I feel incredibly blessed to have had his company during my own healing journey, because now I know the skills of an engaged and patient-centered physician. I can share our story to inspire others to look up to us as a role model of all that is good in the world of ethical, sound, and positive medicine.

When I decided to move away to a place with fresh air, I lost the best physician I ever had. His job was done, and I will never forget how he valued me, respected me and did everything in his power to save me from trauma and my own imagined fears. Life had put me on a difficult path, but he made it lighter and helped me get stronger again.

Fortunately for all of us, Corey, as I called him, is part of the medical faculty at UBC. I hope this story inspires other physicians to understand that being a brilliant medical practitioner requires not just knowledge, but also a big heart, unconditional love, and respect for every single patient they treat. Plus, reverence and humility, because being responsible for the life of another human being and upholding a physician’s oath is not an easy path to walk consistently. All that matters in the end is how many lives a physician made better, because they chose to embrace the gift and responsibility of medicine and healing.

Thanks Corey, from the bottom of my heart, for being my teacher and helper in a time of need.

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