The Art of Healing Broken Hearts

In my off-hours, I bonded with a patient over video games. It was fine until it wasn’t.

Sayed A Tabatabai
Human Parts
Published in
4 min readOct 24, 2019

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Illustration: Kimberlie Wong

For privacy purposes, any potentially identifying details in this story have been altered.

HeHe suffers from a rare cardiomyopathy and has been hospitalized for weeks. He awaits a transplant. His heart is failing.

He’s just 23 years old.

I’m a resident physician on the heart failure service. It’s known as “the rock garden” because it houses chronically ill, complex patients. He’s been admitted for inotropic therapy, which involves medications that help the heart pump more effectively.

The hospital is a miserable place to be in general, doubly so when you’re young. The Wi-Fi reception is lousy, rendering the video game console he brought with him useless for online gaming. Still, our mutual love of gaming helps us forge an unlikely friendship.

After finishing rounds and my work for the day, I join him for some two-player games — Madden Football and Call of Duty — since he can’t play online. He’s hooked up all of his gaming equipment to the small TV in his room. We play hard, neither one of us conceding a match.

Competing against someone is an interesting means of getting to know them. In a strange way, rivals often have a more intimate understanding and appreciation of each other than friends do. We’ve been competing against each other almost every day. He usually wins, easily.

“Come on, Doc,” he grins, “I’m trying to make you better. Learn from me!”

“I don’t think gaming is what I’m supposed to be learning from you,” I reply, frustrated as I lose yet again.

He seems genuinely happy when he wins and I have to smile. I want to help him, badly.

Competing against someone is an interesting means of getting to know them.

As we play, we talk about everything. He tells me about his dreams of going into advertising, specifically for Snickers; he has a killer idea for a jingle. I didn’t know “Snickers” could rhyme with so many words. I tell him that, once upon a time, I used to write for a gaming magazine. He…

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Sayed A Tabatabai
Human Parts

Sayed Tabatabai, MD, is a nephrologist in private practice, and a part-time writer primarily on Twitter @therealdoctort.