People like people

There must have been at least ten of us all crowded into her room. She seemed very sick, and she probably would have rather kept sleeping. I felt bad waltzing in with my classmates to startle her, but our attending physician didn’t seem to care.

“How are you feeling today?” He said it cheerfully, as if he were seeing an old friend for the first time in awhile.

She whispered that she was feeling a bit better than yesterday. A few of us said hello, and she nodded slightly.

The doctor asked her to lean forward. She did so–painfully–and he moved her gown aside to expose her back. One by one, we placed our stethoscopes over her lungs and listened for a few moments while she breathed. By the time it was my turn, she seemed more alert.

“That’s a pretty shirt, sweetheart,” she said to one of my female classmates. The girl was a little surprised, but she smiled and thanked the old woman. Our attending physician then began explaining what we were hearing–I think he had a chest x-ray and some other data on the computer, but I wasn’t really paying attention. The woman had woken up a bit more, and she was now curiously looking around the room. She seemed relaxed.

“Okay?” said our physician.

My classmates nodded that they had understood whatever he just explained, but I was watching the old lady, who was now reaching across her table for a small plastic bag full of Dum-Dum Lollipops. She picked it up, and extended her the bag with a smile, the IV lines dangling from her forearm.

“Want some candy?”

We all smiled, and a few of us took a lollipop. As we walked out, the lady settled back into her bed, and she seemed more peaceful than she’d been before.

I’ve seen this often. Unless they’re very ill, people who are at first tired and sick often perk up when a troop of medical students walks into their room. I don’t think they’re startled; I think they just like company. People like people–strangely, it took me until college to realize this. So for the past few years I’ve been trying to talk to strangers and new people, because everyone seems to appreciate the attention. I’m not very good at it yet, but I’m getting there.

“The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.”

And the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him. And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”

Mark 12:31-34

[Just FYI, none of the patients I talk about are real–they’re composites of various patients and people I’ve met over the past four years or so.]

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One response to “People like people

  1. “If you treat the disease – you win, you lose. If you treat the person – I guarantee you, you’ll win no matter what the outcome.” -Hunter “Patch” Adams

    I’m glad that slowly medical schools are trying to focus more on the human side of medicine – the interactions and relations we make based off of those few minutes we spend each day with a patient. It’s nice that you’re making an effort to focus on that more. With all the other patients and other work we have, it is very easy to forget how little time we spend with each of them – and how lonely it can feel from the patients’ perspective. It makes our time with them that much more important.

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