A Call for Temporal Justice

By: Ashley McMullen, MD

Ashley McMullen, MD, is a Chief Resident at UCSF in San Francisco, CA

My Patient

The day I met you was early in my second year of Internal Medicine residency. After much of my internship had been spent on arduous inpatient rotations, I was finally ready to lead my own team of young doctors and students on a high-acuity wards service. Yet, in my continuity clinic, I was still fresh, insecure, and naive. The day I met you, your abdomen was swollen, your eyes were yellow, you were drowsy and seemingly apathetic. Years of heavy alcohol use had sclerosed your liver, leading to hepatic disease in its final stages. You were my patient, I was your new primary care doctor — and I didn’t speak your language. We fumbled through the interpreted conversation, hindered by your lethargy, my inexperience, and a 20-minute visit time. We talked about abstinence from alcohol, and we talked about liver transplant. I got you what you needed: diuretics and a paracentesis for your ascites, lactulose and rifaximin to remove the toxins clouding your consciousness, a referral to hepatology to start the process of future transplant evaluation. However, what we both needed was more time.

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