Here was a real patient, who was really sick, and who would receive no conceivable medical benefit from me over the next 45 minutes. If I sound lacking in confidence, its because I was.
My first year of patient interactions was with children at a suburban clinic. These were happy kids who, at the very worst, had a cold. I was just the “funny young fake doctor” who got to talk with them for a few minutes.
Not here, though. Here the patients needed help, and they needed it now. And this funny young fake doctor could not provide that help.
So I started with what I knew.
“Good afternoon, sir. My name is Stephen and I’m a second year medical student at Baylor College of Medicine. I was hoping I could speak with you briefly about what brought you to the hospital”.
Then he said “hello,” and we talked. We talked about his condition, his medical history, and the series of events that led to his admission at the hospital. We talked about his family, his faith, and his love of football – a triad that won’t show up in any medical textbook, but is sure to play a part in my education at a Texas medical school.
He told me things he probably hasn’t told his closest friends, entrusting me – or rather, my short white coat – with the most intimate details of his life. When I was finished, I thanked him for his time.
Then he thanked me.
Which was odd, since my entire interaction with him could only be described as an intrusion. I would like to think that I somehow broke up the monotony in his day, but I suppose that’s just wishful thinking.
Because, in all honesty, it was me who benefited most from those 45 minutes. I had the opportunity to meet this man and to understand his condition. So on the next exam I take, or with next patient I see, I won’t think of the paragraph I read about this disorder, but the patient I met who loved to play football when he was younger.
He was just another in an ever-expanding list of great teachers I’ve met at Baylor College of Medicine.