In the (short) amount of time I’ve spent meeting patients and observing procedures, there have already been many moments that have stayed with me. I hope that I remember these types of experiences forever, but the truth is that as more and more extreme circumstances happen, little moments like these might get lost. So I think that once in a while I’ll write them down so that I don’t forget all of them. I also hope that just because I remember moments like these so vividly, it doesn’t mean that all the other patients I met or saw are any less important to me. Right now, because my patient encounters have been relatively few, I can count each patient that I’ve met. In fact, once in a while I’ll recount all the patients I met just so that I won’t forget. What will I do when I inevitably start forgetting about the people that I met along the way to becoming a physician? I know that there’s nothing I can do, but still. It’s strange to think about.
Here are some particular moments that have stayed with me, in chronological order:
The bright red of a patient’s tongue when he beamed and said, “See, doc? I listened to you! I eat lollipops instead of smoking now!” I wanted to congratulate him but felt that I should stay quiet. I hadn’t been briefed about this patient before we had entered the room to talk to him. Leaving the room with the resident I was shadowing, I realized that I was much shorter than her. She said, still looking through the patient’s folder, “I’ll let Dr. H tell him.” We were walking very quickly. I remember feeling sick when Dr. H pulled up the patient’s CT scan to show me the constellation of gray tumors spreading across the patient’s liver.
Peering into the OR as a patient coded. A nurse running past me, yanking the cart behind her. I remember feeling surprised to see her sprinting through the sterilized hallway. I remember feeling like a stone in a steady stream that had turned into a raging current. If I didn’t move, I’d be less of a hindrance. I had one clear, bizarre thought: if this patient dies, you must remember the color of his socks. Luckily, he lived. I don’t remember the color of his socks.
Shaking the hand of an 85-year-old woman as I stepped into her room for an in-home assessment. This woman shuffled around her immaculate apartment at top speed, showing us her stack of mystery novels and inviting us to enjoy the view from her window. She told us, “Sometimes I drive up north to visit my daughter and son-in-law. I pick up my groceries on the way down.” I was pleasantly surprised by her youthful energy and abilities. Still, I remembered to take her hand gently with both of mine before we left, telling her how truly happy I was to have met her. When I had shaken her hand at the beginning of our interview, I had felt the bones in her tiny hand bend ever so slightly. I was reminded of a time when I participated in a competition to build the tallest tower out of dried spaghetti noodles.