This time last year, I had a patient encounter that humbled me. This patient, let’s use a random name (I’m partial to Charlotte), presented to the clinic with a complaint of breast pain. I wrote about this patient encounter – so I don’t want to provide too many details here – and submitted my piece to the Gold Foundation. I felt extremely lucky to have placed 3rd in the Hope Babette Tang Humanism in Medicine Essay Contest. Now, I feel extremely proud to see my essay in this month’s issue of Academic Medicine.
Click on the image below in order to read the piece. Feel free to share your thoughts with me!
I nicknamed my favorite patient Little Bo Peep. I can explain: her earliest memory was of dancing through the streets of New Orleans during Mardi Gras, dressed as Little Bo Peep. She was 3 at the time, perhaps 4. It was hard for her to remember. Her memory had been “hazy,” she admitted cautiously — worried about how I would take that confession. She admitted a lot of things to me.
Over the course of two weeks, I noticed that we had a lot of shared interests: nail polish (eh, I’ll admit it), German Shepherds, and Russian literature – in particular, Anna Karenina.
She was dying — I think she knew that but I was blinded by my desire for her to live — and nonetheless she took such interest in my life. Carefully spun sentences stitched us closer together. Patients with terminal cancer have a great need for emotional support; I found myself holding her hand as she cried, painting her nails, cleaning her up after she vomited. We spent a lot of time talking – she hated to be alone – and I often told her that she knew me better than anyone else in New Orleans. She didn’t believe me, but it was true.
I was both fascinated and terrified by her disease process.