August 19, 2007

A year has passed...

I've completed a full year of medical training and the biggest lesson that I've learned is that I don't know much.

The first patient that I saw with a group of my peers was last year, about this time -- we had just finished learning how to ask a patient about their past medical history and their background information. Our interview with an 80 year old woman turned into a recounting of her personal story, how she came to the state, worked in the fields, raised three children, survived two heart attacks and pneumonia last year. Other parts of her story came out in more subtle ways. She was able to recall details of her past perfectly -- but more recent memories from last week's procedures that brought her to the ICU were more fuzzy. It turned out that she had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's... our preceptor commented how it was therapeutic for her to reflect on her past with us.

This theme stuck with me as I learned more and more how the greatest gift I could give a patient, here and now, is my time and understanding. A lot of doctors are stressed out and they are only given a 15 minute window to see patients! As a "non-essential" part of the medical team, I have the luxury to spend more time with the patient.

I have volunteered at a homeless shelter providing free medical care and we recently expanded our services to another shelter. Time and time again, I have been drawn into a patient's story that went beyond their chief complaint to their underlying condition... how they lost the security of a warm bed and home to call their own. One man came in because of bedbug bites. He used to be a prize-winning chef, but he screwed it all up selling drugs. He was caught and went to prison for a little while, but when he got out, he found out that no one would hire him because of his prior conviction. In his despair, he confessed to me that he had a child on the way and if he was missing from the shelter in a few weeks, it's because he's back on the streets dealing drugs. I asked him about what was important in his life... he said that it was his girlfriend and their new child. I told him to think about the life that child would have and how much more difficult it would be if he were a drug dealer. He ranted on for a while and the visit went on for close to an hour. He said that he felt better afterward. I was glad that I listened to him... and I hoped that he listened to me. I saw him a few weeks later still at the shelter, but he has a black eye and the white of his eye had turned blood red. I hope beyond all hopes that he hasn't resorted to crime and drugs again.

Recently, I saw a series of patients in the clinic that really made me realize how much my volunteer work at the shelter has changed my outlook.

- difficult man

- emotional, obese woman w/ recent dx of DM

- possibly drunk & pregnant woman w/ a painful boil on her thigh - worried about baby!

No comments:

Post a Comment