The question every doctor asks eventually

Dr. Lawrence Chin speaks during the 2013 White Coat Ceremony. Photo by William Mueller.

Dr. Lawrence Chin speaks during the 2013 White Coat Ceremony. Photo by William Mueller.

Upstate Neurosurgery Chairman Lawrence Chin, MD, spoke at Upstate’s annual White Coat Ceremony last fall, when medical students receive the jackets they will wear during their clinical rotations.

He told of a patient who had back pain that left him unable to walk because cancer had spread to his spinal cord. One surgeon said the patient was not fit for surgery, but Chin’s resident felt that the patient deserved a chance. The resident proposed an operation that would be complicated and time-consuming, to decompress the patient’s spinal cord and remove as much of the tumor as possible.

The date was July 4.

Chin and the resident both had plans to spend the day with family in town for the holiday. Maybe the surgery could wait until tomorrow?

“There comes a time when every doctor has to ask: Am I doing the best thing for this patient?” Chin told the medical students.

He and the resident faced that question that day – and the surgery took place that day.

Chin said it was the right decision. “Three weeks later, that man walked out of the hospital.”

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