Medicine can be done with words, actions, or a smile

They say medicine is a hard science, based on heavily scrutinized theories and proven postulates.  Medicine is supposedly made up of differentials, diagnostic workups, and medications aimed to alleviate or cure.  Everything is based on evidence, everything. But, today, something happened that hasn’t been researched using IRBs; something intangible that restored my faith in humanity.

I was on my way home from a long day of being intensely questioned by residents and attendings, and the tiring hustle of being on rotations. It was a long day, but fortunately, I’m a firm believer in that ‘break your neck to keep your head up, if that’s what it takes’ ideology. On my way home, I was stuck in traffic for over a half hour.  As I inched up at a snail’s pace, I notice that there was a car broken down in the middle of the road. Cars would pass, but no one would offer help.  When I looked in the car, I saw a brittle, old woman complete with an osteoporotic kyphosis and walking shoes, and I immediately felt a primal need to help.

I got out of the car, garbed in a shirt and a loosened tie, remnants of my long day in the hospital.  I ran up to her window, plainly stated my intentions, and got behind her car to get to work.  Cars passed, and no one would let me push her to the side of the road.  Then, like a scene from a movie, a man got out of his car, and wordlessly started helping me push.  Before I could blink, a truck pulled up and blocked the two lanes of traffic, not allowing anyone to pass.  At the same exact time, a third man got out and ran to help with the car.

Together, we pushed the car to the side in less than 15 seconds, and traffic was able to run smooth again.   When I ran up to her window to ask her if she needed anything else, I saw that twinkle that builds up in your eyes right before you cry, and with the sincerest words I’ve ever heard uttered from a stranger, she said, “I love you.” I was taken aback, and felt my eyes well up with tears as I walked back to my car.

The thought of what occurred gave me the chills on the rest of my way home. Four strangers got together to help this old woman get off the road safely.  We worked without words, like a machine. We worked quickly and efficiently — like brothers — all without even making eye contact.

What occurred today is what medicine feels like. It’s not hard science. It’s not protein transcription, chest CTs, and pre-operative clearance. It’s not stethoscopes, big words, or fancy $3,000 medications.  Medicine is healing. And it can be done with words, actions, or a smile.

Those men made my day better. And together, we made her day better. And I don’t even know their names.

That’s medicine.

Edwin Acevedo, Jr. is a medical student who blogs at the AAMC’s Aspiring Docs Diaries.

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