I practiced family medicine for over thirty years. I cared for thousands of patients with everything from common colds and itchy rashes, to life-threatening chest pain and end-stage cancer. From birth to death. From morning to night. Like all of you.
As health care providers, we record our patients’ stories. We invade their privacy and probe their bodies. We formulate a differential diagnosis and subject them to sometimes painful testing and treatment. Through it all, we provide encouragement. We embody hope. We offer solace. We confront suffering. We celebrate healing.
“The best way to find yourself
is to lose yourself
in the service of others.”
It’s no wonder, then, that we carry their stories with us. That, years later, we still remember people we encountered only briefly, not because their stories were particularly gruesome or traumatic or heartbreaking (although many were), nor because their recovery was so extraordinary (sometimes miraculous), but because we took our time with them. We learned from them and we used what they taught us for the rest of our careers. Or, perhaps, we failed them and still can’t forgive ourselves.
Trust me…for any but the most trivial office encounter, patients remember us, too. How we dressed. If our hands were cold. The smell of cigarette smoke on our breath. Whether or not we made eye contact. They read the expression on our faces and our body language. They sensed when we were hurried. They knew if we were listening.
“Give whatever you are doing
and whomever you are with
the gift of your attention.”
I remember certain patients because I was touched by the suffering they endured, or by the strength they demonstrated, or by wisdom they embraced. I hope they remember me because of the time I spent with them, the compassion I felt, and the knowledge I shared.
Which patients do you remember?
“There is no such thing
as an ordinary human.”
How will they remember you?
“I’ve learned that people will forget
what you said,
people will forget what you did,
but people will never forget
how you made them feel.”