“This family is certifiably crazy,” said the nurse to my preceptor and me as we prepared to walk into the patient’s room. I am a nervous person by nature, and new situations cause me considerable anxiety. These words did little to comfort me. We donned our isolation gowns and prepared for the very worst.
“My mother is in pain. I don’t want to see her like this,” the daughter Rose told us. We listened to her concerns and answered her questions, her verbosity overwhelming me at times. I found my mind wandering and my discomfort building as the isolation gown I had donned collaborated with my white coat to bake me as I sat. Finally we excused ourselves from the room, having spent over an hour with Rose and still yet to see our other patients. My preceptor and I voiced our displeasure to each other at having squandered precious time on a single patient encounter, and moved on with the rest of our morning.
That afternoon, I sought to speak with Rose again and get to know her and her mother better. I entered the room PPE-clad and saw that Rose’s mother was awake.
“How are you doing, Ms. Mary?” I inquired. She did not respond, and Rose prompted her, “Did you hear him, Ma? He said ‘how are you doing, Ms. Mary?’”
“I’m doing all right,” she finally replied.
“She’s much better this afternoon and not in as much pain,” Rose informed me. I saw that she had put up some photographs on the message board in the room. One particular photograph caught my eye. It was of Rose’s mother, from a time of better health, sitting in the sun with her shades on, a smile resting on her face. It was a look of contentedness, and I could see in it a wisdom that things would happen for the best, a quiet assuredness that everything would be “all right”.
“Tell me about these photographs, Rose,” I asked of her. She came over to the board and described them one by one. Above the photograph of her mother was one of a young man dated September 1960: this was her father. Another photograph depicted her great aunt and uncle, whom she was very close to, and yet another showed her mother and her mother’s sisters, aunts who were each like a second mother to her. Her filial piety moved me tremendously. Just the weekend before I had missed my parents terribly and drove home on a whim to be with them. In another photograph, Rose and her younger sister stood side by side. She told me that she and her sister were very close despite being eight years apart in age. I began to see that Rose and I had more in common than I initially thought.
“I am the same way with my brother,” I told her. He and I are nine years apart and we are incredibly close, sharing the same jokes and bickering like small children. As we talked about our families we barely noticed the time pass by. I had been there for another hour, but it was time well spent. As a medical student, I have the luxury of focusing my patient encounters and spending larger quantities of time with fewer patients. I have begun to look forward to encounters like these where I can not only learn about patients and their social backgrounds but also serve as a listener for patients to talk about their frustrations and tell their stories in detail.
A group of students at Pritzker School of Medicine wrote and performed a parody of Disney’s “Let It Go” titled “I Don’t Know”, in which a third-year medical student sings about feeling overwhelmed by life on the wards. However, she concludes, “I’d take it over second year any day.” I could not agree more.
Year in Medical School: MS3, Class of 2016
College Attended: Davidson College
Hometown: Charlotte, NC
“Perhaps one day you will look back on these times, and rejoice” - Vergil
Fun Fact: I don't have a middle name.
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