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The People We Meet

Posted Dec 22 2011 11:07am
I've been thinking about the people I've met throughout my life. The people I've come across in the various places I've lived. It's fascinating how we can form relationships with so many different people; some can become a permanent fixture in your life, and some people come and go. But they all have an impact, no matter how big or small, the people you meet have an effect on your life.

I've known my best friend for nearly two decades. We've stuck through it since grade school, and though I only see her once or twice a year, we're always able to pick up from where we left off, as if no amount of time had passed. Thank goodness for texting because she shares my snarky humor, and there are times during the day when I think of a brilliant one-liner and she's the only one I know who would really appreciate it. Those kind of people are rare, and I'm lucky to have such a friendship to lean on. The same goes for my college friends. Try as we might to keep in touch with our monthly email updates, it's hard when we're all scattered across the country busy with families and jobs. But I know they would be there for me if I needed them, and vice versa.

Then there are people that have come and gone, like a tide lapping on a sandy shore. They come rushing in, forming a connection and striking a bond over shared interests or experiences. But over time that kinship recedes out, and that's how it's supposed to be. Individuals I've worked with over the years, classmates, neighbors...not all relationships are meant to stand the test of time, and that's okay. But for as much time as I've spent with them, they've been part of the life lessons (good and bad) I've accrued.

And even now with the patients I encounter, these are individuals that influence my approach to medicine. I may only see them once or twice, but they have had an impact on my clinical education. They've inspired me to push myself academically, helped me to refine my professionalism, and have toughened me up to deal with the mercurial nature of medicine. As healthcare professionals (or soon-to-be), we come into their lives at the most vulnerable moment. We become a part of their story as much as they affect ours. And the alliance we form with them, the doctor/patient relationship, is paramount. 
I was reminded of this the other day when I saw an elderly patient in the office for a routine physical. She was there with her husband who was sitting quietly in the corner. I started asking her about any concerns she had, addressing any medication refills, and then suddenly her husband chimed in on the conversation.
"You know something, I can tell you've been doing this for a while. You know how I can tell? It's because you're looking at my wife when she talks."
I explained to him that I was only a third year student, only a few months into my clerkship year, but I thanked him for what he said. Golly, if he had been right about me doing this for a while, we'd all be in a heap of trouble because I'm just trying to get through each day. But his comment stuck with me, his observation of how I interviewed his wife. It's the small things that can make a huge difference, looking at someone while they speak and acknowledging what they say. I don't know if I'll see that couple again, but I sure will remember what they said.
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