Thursday, March 23, 2017

memories are made of this


As a retired physician, I am bursting with memories. Some are biggies…like the five-hour ambulance ride it took to transport a fragile premie from a rural upstate hospital to the medical center where I was a resident. Lights and sirens the whole way. Or running a clinic out of a tent in the African bush without electricity or running water. Or prepping a patient who was sent to the OR by the emergency room doc for an appendectomy in the middle of the night…when my pre-op exam revealed a leaking aortic aneurysm instead. That got things moving!
On the other hand, some memories are brief, isolated moments that punctuate the middle of a busy day…a dousing with pee during a newborn exam, a spontaneous embrace or word of gratitude from an appreciative patient, a smile or a grimace or a groan.
“We don’t remember days.
We remember moments.”
~Cesare Pavese~

Monumental or trivial, happy or sad, memories stick with us. When you consider the number of patients we see every day over the course of our careers, all the details we tend to, all the information we process, it’s amazing we remember any of it.

Imagine, though, what it must be like for your patient. You may already have seen twenty patients that day. It’s all a blur. Each patient, on the other hand sees one physician or provider that day—you—and will be totally focused on this particular encounter. Years later, he may still recall the fear or dread that tempted him to cancel his appointment. The smell of cigarette smoke on your clothing. The impatient sigh that escaped when you glanced at your watch. How cold your hands were, or how warm. How hurried you were, or how kind…
“…You will never know the value 
Of a moment
Until it becomes a memory.”
~ Dr. Suess~

 …when you don’t remember the patient at all.
Whether you’re a provider or a patient, if you’re interested in narrative medicine, you have to tap into those memories. Relive those moments. Reflect on your experience. And share what you have learned.
“One day you will be just a memory
For some people.
Do your best to be a good one.”

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