Letter from emergency room doctor goes viral

Dr. Jon LaPook discusses a letter from an emergency room doctor to a patient's family.

(CBS News) An emotional, handwritten letter from an emergency room doctor is inspiring millions of people, after a family posted it online earlier this week. The letter is addressed to the husband of a breast cancer patient who was admitted to the New York Presbyterian emergency room last December.

After learning of the woman's passing, the doctor wrote:

"In my twenty years as a doctor in the Emergency Room, I have never written to a patient or a family member, as our encounters are typically hurried and do not always allow for more personal interaction ... However, in your case, I felt a special connection to your wife, who was so engaging and cheerful in spite of her illness and trouble breathing ... I am sorry for your loss and I hope you can find comfort in the memory of your wife's great spirit and of your loving bond. My heartfelt condolences go out to you and your family."

The woman's son posted the letter on the website Reddit, and now more than 2 million people have been touched by a doctor's rare and emotional words

Dr. Jon LaPook, CBS News medical correspondent, calls this letter "pretty unusual" especially after his experiences a resident in the same hospital's emergency room at the start of his career. He also sites the level of care that went into handwriting a letter, getting a stamp, and mailing it as clear example of how unique this letter is and its "level of compassion."

LaPook told "CBS News This Morning: Saturday" hosts Anthony Mason and Rebecca Jarvis that he tries, and he teacheshis students, to put up a bit of a wall between his patients and himself. He says that he'd rather err on the side of the "wall being too thin" in order to have those relationships with patients, but doctors need to be careful of their well-being too.

He shared that he can still remember the first patient who died. "I can tell you the name of the person over 30 years later. Hopefully you never get to the point where it doesn't mean anything to you," said LaPook.

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He also explained that there are very different interactions between primary doctors, or specialists and a physician you'd see in an emergency room. Doctors in an ER only see you for a brief amount of time, while treating physicians can have decades-long relationships with patients. He emphasized that it's important to see a doctor that you feel cares about you.

"I think patients should expect a certain level of understanding and compassion with their doctors, and I think patients are afraid to fire their doctors," he said. "In your general life, if your doctor is not connecting with you, and you feel that they aren't feeling your pain a little bit then maybe its time to find a new doctor."