The Footnotes of A Life In Medicine

Taylor Nichols, MD
2 min readMay 10, 2021

A pediatric emergency physician was once telling me about a book that he was writing about his life and his experiences in the emergency department, about the lives saved and all of the crazy stories from over the years.

He noted how he had followed up on some of the remarkable patients. He talked about how once, more than a decade after saving a young girl’s life, he had run into the girl’s father, and the father told him about all that she had accomplished since the doctor saved her life.

I could see the pride on his face as he told me that story, reflecting momentarily in the thought of that moment. I asked him if he had included all of these follow up stories in the book. He remarked that he had not, though said that maybe he would have to add some footnotes about the patient stories that he was able to follow up on. I asked him why he didn’t write the book about the footnotes instead.

I asked because, for the majority of my life now, my story has not been mine alone. I have been a footnote in the story of a pediatric neurosurgeon. A footnote in the story of a pediatric intensivist. A footnote in the story of the first responders who resuscitated me as my brain was herniating, trying to force its way out of my skull, driving my respiratory drive towards agonal.

The thought of these footnotes drove me into medicine. The perpetuation of impact — positively changing one life opens the possibility of that person going on to have an even greater impact, saving the life of someone who can go on to do even more great things.

Like threads across time, our stories stretch so far beyond ourselves. With each footnote, those stories branch and continue to grow. And how many footnotes do that pediatric neurosurgeon, pediatric intensivist, and those first responders have in their stories? Imagine the scale.

Medicine has allowed me to become more than just a footnote in the stories of those who saved my life, but also to begin to have footnotes of my own. Footnotes in a story that is hopefully worthy of writing a book about down the road, when I approach the end of my own career. Medicine has allowed me to become more than just a footnote in the stories of those who saved my life, but also to begin to have footnotes of my own. Footnotes in a story that is hopefully worthy of writing a book about down the road, when I approach the end of my own career.

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Taylor Nichols, MD

Humanist. Emergency Medicine and AddictiEmergency + Addiction Medicine | Health policy and advocacy | Health tech and innovation