Patients & patience!
Yesterday I took another patient’s medical history. He was suffering from stroke, that had left him with Right sided hemiplegia, rendering his right hand & leg immobile & robbing him of his speech.
He was asleep; & a woman, most likely his wife, was sitting next to his bed staring into space. For a moment I thought of turning back, because history taking basically meant bombarding her incessantly with questions; forcing her to recall the whole event, with every painful detail. It would mean causing her pain. And that was what I wasn’t supposed to do, right? I was studying to be a doctor. My role was to alleviate suffering, not cause it. Besides, the diagnosis had already made & the treatment was already underway. Was my interrogation really necessary?
Before these thoughts could overpower me, I firmly pushed them aside. I am seeking knowledge, not causing any pain. And even if I do, well, I have to learn so that I can help them in future. She noticed me walking towards her & sat up attentively.
“Hi,” I said gently. “I’d like to talk to you for a little while, if that’s okay.”
I proceeded, carefully listening her account; asking questions to clarify where I needed to.
Around fifteen minutes later, I had all the information I needed; and I could pinpoint the location of stroke, as was expected from me. We were at the end of my questions when her eyes watered. And before I could utter a word, she broke down, just like that.
She didn’t sob. She simply covered her eyes with her hand and wept.
I simply stood there with apparently what looked like calm on my face. Another 10 thousand thoughts rushed in my head with a speed of 1000 thoughts/ second.
Stop. Right there. You can beat yourself up later. Right now you have to be with her.
I stood silently, letting her weep. It lasted for hardly few seconds. Not knowing much what to do, I touched her hand.
“Can I get you some water?” I asked.
She smiled slightly. “No. It’s just that- he has never been like this before. He has always been so hardworking. He never took a break; he- we never thought-” she trailed off. “We talk on video-call with our children, and each time they ask me why their daddy won’t speak to them.”
She looked up to me. “If only something could be done to help him regain his speech,” her eyes welled up with tears again.
She immediately tried to stop. But failed. I tried best not to beat myself. It was my fault. I had pestered her with questions. I had made her relive the harrowing incident; when her husband had suddenly collapsed on the floor all of a sudden; unable to walk & speak or eat, or tell her what was wrong; when she had to rush to the hospital, scared for her husband’s life. I had ended up inflicting pain to her after all.
For a moment, I was at a loss of words. A brief sense of helplessness took over me, and I suddenly felt unprepared. How can hearts fall short of capacity to offer solace & comfort?
That very possibility shook me to my soul.
But then, I felt calm again. After another few moments of silence, we talked; more akin to two neighbours sharing sorrows, with one pouring out their heart and the other listening intently & less like a doctor interviewing a patient. I felt little guilt for breaching the boundaries of a “professional” relationship.
She continued to tell me of her children, of how they used to live daily before, and how they now planned to return back to their hometown, in their quiet old village. I listened, until she stopped, and looked a little better than before.
You might turn out to be an extremely busy doctor one day. You don’t have the time to listen patients telling their life stories, my brain sarcastically commented.
My heart easily brushed off the comment. But right now, I’m not a doctor yet. I’m a student doctor; with “apparently” plenty of time.
I nodded. “Take care, and if there’s anything, let us know.” I told her.
She smiled. “Thank you,” she whispered.
What? No, I should thank her. I bombarded her with all questions, when she would have already answered all those questions to residents & other students. Nevertheless, she had answered my every question with patience.
It has always been said that patient owe us a lot. We sacrifice years & struggle each day with all kinds of unenviable troubles. But we owe our patients a lot too. They teach us with their disease; when being this teacher was never their choice. Our patients come to get treated, & while they owe us for it; we owe them for the art that makes us healers. They make us what we become known for.
Books I read. But with patients I learn.
It’s like my mother used to always say- “When a good deed is done, it’s always both the sides being blessed.”
Where would we doctors be without our patients? Patience, in this field, my friends; is possessed by both the sides. Patience, comes at a price; but in this endless field, is priceless!