Rounding with Ghosts

Jennifer Caputo-Seidler, MD
2 min readFeb 3, 2022

I knock on the door and announce myself.

“Jessica, it’s Dr. Caputo.”

She beckons me in. As I push back the curtain between us, I pause in the doorway. For a moment, I am unable to move any further. Jessica sits in her ICU bed. A monitor hangs on the wall behind her. Two IV poles flank her left side with half a dozen medications running into her veins. Oxygen flows from the wall into her lungs through the tubing in her nose. She has the bedside table pulled across her lap with a mirror propped on top of it. She is tweezing her eyebrows.

“Don’t mind me. I’m just passing the time,” Jessica says lightly.

In the tone of her voice, I realize she thinks I’m hesitating because I’ve interrupted her. What she doesn’t know, can’t possibly know, is the flood of memories that hit me as I pushed aside that curtain. Memories of another young woman I cared for in this room. A woman who, like Jessica, was admitted to my service for treatment of cancer.

I was transported back months earlier when I knocked on this same door and pulled aside the curtain. That morning the room was dark, the blinds still closed against the Florida sun. My patient sat in bed applying her make-up using the small radius of light from the flashlight on her phone. Her husband slept on the couch across the room. She hadn’t wanted to wake him as he’d been up most of the night caring for her. She died four days later from rapidly progressive respiratory failure.

But that woman isn’t the one in front of me now. I push aside the memories, step into the room, and begin my exam.

“How does your breathing feel today, Jessica?” I ask.

She’s doing well. I think she’ll be ready to move out of the ICU soon.

I’ll be glad when she’s out of this room. It’s too similar, these two young women, both younger than me, both trying to keep some semblance of normalcy in this ICU bed. Going through their morning routines as I make my rounds. Maybe as Jessica tells me, it’s to pass the time, or perhaps it’s one small thing they can do in this situation to feel like themselves.



Jennifer Caputo-Seidler, MD

Hospital medicine physician with a passion for gender equity, narrative medicine, and medical education.