How to Never Run Out of Patients
“Hi, doctor, do you remember me?”
I looked up from my desk and saw an unfamiliar face.
My recall for faces is generally poor. I have walked past celebrities and famous personalities, wondering why other people were excitedly whispering behind their hands. Only to be gently chided by my wife for not recognizing the current talk of the town. I would make a poor politician.
If this patient knew who I was, then by rights a glimmer of recognition should appear in my memory. But I drew a blank.
“You were part of a team of doctors who took care of my father,” she explained.
“Oh,” I murmured, “How is he?”
“He died from cancer a few months ago,” she continued.
“Oh,” I murmured again. Then recognition came.
He had a particularly aggressive case of pancreatic cancer. The family and the medical team eventually decided on a palliative course. He was discharged to home a few days after.
“What can I do for you?” I asked.
“I think I have a urinary tract infection,” she began. “It started a few days ago — I think I forgot to drink the required glasses of water because I was so busy. Then I got a fever. Then it hurt to pee. I took the liberty of doing a test, and you can see the infection here.” She pushed across a paper with her results. It was pretty straightforward.
After prescribing an antibiotic, we got to chatting about her family.
“They’re ok. Coping, I guess,” she expounded.
“It was pretty stormy the first few days. But one day, you came into the room while we were arguing. You initially didn’t say anything,” she narrated.
“You listened. You asked what each of us thought. You explained a few things. Then you asked us to please work together, telling us that a decision need not be made today, but when the decision comes it should be something that everybody agrees to.”
It sounded like something I would say.
“I cannot thank you enough for your words,” she said. “We felt your concern. You told us exactly what we needed to hear.”
I was blushing, because I could not really remember how this talk occurred.
“So when I found myself needing a doctor, I thought of you,” she continued. “And here I am. There you are. My family will soon come to you for their check ups. We have neglected our own health to focus on our father who was sick.”
Everyday, we deal with the sick, the dying. We sometimes get numbed because we are so busy. We must not forget that our patients are not only those we find on the bed, but also those who watch over them. They watch over us, and when they see you care, you can never be without patients.