OHSU Physician’s Emergency Department Tale Prompts Outpouring of Tearjerkers on Twitter
As an emergency room researcher, Dr. Esther Choo can spend years working on projects on healthcare policy.
So she stays in the daily dialog by firing off Tweets -- like one last Friday about a man who came into the Oregon Health & Science University emergency department during one of her overnight shifts in cardiac arrest. “B” had been dead 20 minutes, the Tweet said. She didn’t expect him to live, she told The Lund Report. Only 5 percent do, including "B."
Ten years have passed. He still calls her on the anniversary, Choo wrote, adding the hashtag #ShareAStoryInOneTweet.
“I was thinking about all the stories that we encounter in the course of our practice and how we have this amazing opportunity in medicine to be present in pivotal moments in people’s lives,” she explained.
She hoped her friends and followers would add a Tweet. They did. So did tens of thousands of doctors, nurses and other specialists. The response came from Oregon and other states across the country. Then the hashtag spread around the globe, from Canada to South Africa.
So far, more than 415,000 people have weighed in by Tweeting or reacting.
Choo didn’t expect a viral response.
“I thought it would be cool if I could see other people’s stories in a single Tweet,” she said. “I didn’t think it would be as widely shared.”
The hashtag clearly touched a nerve. She thinks it has to do with the nature of the job.
“There’s a lot about medicine that’s tough,” Choo said. “But ultimately there is a core to it which is that we can provide an important human service. I think that people like to get back to their roots by talking about these pivotal moments in their careers.”
Many of the Tweets involve life and death. Often death wins. When that happens, it’s heartbreaking.
This is from an emergency room physician in Michigan:
I was a trauma intern on the night you came into the ED. Young teen, self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. Unsurvivable. We kept you alive for gift of life and I stayed by your side. Wish I could have told you that life gets better. That it’s worth it. #ShareAStoryinOneTweet
A doctor in Canada also weighed in:
Admitted with AIDS complications, you told me,the intern, how your father hadn’t talked to you since your diagnosis.Your condition worsened quickly +you died on the floor. Your father came up to see you only after you passed. I saw him cry and you didn’t. #ShareAStoryInOneTweet
Some Tweets on the thread bring a smile, like this from a doctor in Massachusetts:
You: Student nurse who asked me to come to bed 24 to help you clean up a geriatric patient who had soiled herself, just to see if I would. Me: Intern who took one look at you and ran right over. 14 years later, we still laugh when people ask us how we met. #ShareAStoryInOneTweet
Others comment on attitudes and policies, like this from a physician in Canada:
You bear pain for far too long, fearing judgment. When you come to the ER it is because the pain is too much. When they see ‘anxiety’ on your record, you see blame and shame. Meanwhile the pain gets worse. #stopthestigma #sicknotweak #ShareAStoryInOneTweet #erasethedifference
And then there are the pinnacle moments, like Choo’s first Tweet. Or this one from a doctor in Nebraska:
You were hit by a car right in front of me while walking your dog. I ran to you, did CPR, didn’t think you’d live. I was burned out, empty, ready to quit med. 6 mo later, you called me on Christmas Eve & told me I saved you. And you ended up saving me. #ShareAStoryInOneTweet
When the thread reached a physician in South Africa, he added a tale of his own:
Delivered a 450g baby. Told she was too small- had no chance. She kept stopping breathing so stayed up with her for 2 nights rubbing her chest for every breath. Consultant said I was wasting my time. She just performed her first ballet as a healthy 6y.o. #ShareAStoryInOneTweet
Choo suspects his Tweet spread the thread abroad.
“It’s a total tearjerker,” she said. “He got 70,000 likes.”
There are a lot of physicians on Twitter -- enough that studies have analyzed their Tweets. Many are prolific. One of Choo’s colleagues, Dr. Vinay Prasad, an oncologist at OHSU, has fired off nearly 30,000 Tweets since adopting the social media tool in 2013. Choo hopped on a year earlier. She has more than 26,000 Tweets.
She said she joined Twitter to connect with healthcare providers and researchers and to contribute to medical education online.
She ended up becoming an advocate for issues she cares about. She wanted to raise awareness, she said, and suggest solutions. She wanted to galvanize energy behind them.
“It’s a great way to connect our healthcare experiences to action,” she said, “and to try to make things better for the public.”
She’s not alone. Other Tweets in the thread talk about policies and medical controversies like abortion.
This physician, who has only authored just over 90 Tweets, had this to say:
While in Kenya, a woman came in septic & hemorrhaging from an #unsafeabortion.
Performed a hysterectomy, gave blood, antibiotics, and she died anyway. She was a 24yo college student. #Abortionbans don’t limit abortion. They just makes them unsafe. #ShareAStoryInOneTweet
That sentiment was countered by a paramedic in Idaho:
You delivered your premie baby head down in a toilet, left it there while someone else called 911, then as we ran out the door with your dead baby your boyfriend said it's okay because you were going to have an abortion anyway. She's alive today, idiot. #ShareAStoryInOneTweet
Controversial topics aside, the hashtag reaffirms why many people get into medicine, Choo said. They want to help.
“Healthcare providers love that they can be there for people in their hardest times,” she said.
But they also need to vent. They see the best and worst of humanity. They work long hours. They’re bound by privacy rules that prevent them from sharing the details.
All Choo would say about B is that when he arrived at OHSU, he received the usual treatment for cardiac arrest patients. Doctors, nurses and technicians swarm. They perform chest compressions while supporting the airway. They monitor the heart and administer medications.
“It’s the same for every patient,” Choo said. “For whatever reason, we got this one back.”
Freelance writer Lynne Terry is a veteran healthcare reporter based in Portland.