Dear NP student who rotated through here back over the winter:
You probably don’t remember seeing this particular woman. I sent you in to do a well-woman exam on her; everything was completely normal. There was nothing particularly memorable about her, either clinically or personally. Just another nice lady coming through the office; just another physical.
You asked her a question, though: “How are things in the bedroom?” She was too shocked to answer you. Shocked that anyone would ask her the question; shocked that anyone would be interested; shocked that any kind of answer she could come up with would have anything to do with her life.
I saw her again today, many months later. She told me to thank you.
You see, she and her husband had been sleeping in separate bedrooms for years. She said theirs was more like a brother-sister relationship than husband-wife. She craved the intimacy and missed him terribly. After you had asked the question — that she was too shocked to answer — she’d gone home and mulled over her life. She’d finally worked up the nerve to say something to him. Turns out he was struggling with some issues of his own (cough*ED*cough). His urologist had also astutely recommended couples counseling, and, well, suffice it to say, things are turning around.
After however many decades of feeling swept along by life, at last she feels in control of her own relationship. And all because you asked her a question for which she never did give you an answer.
That’s a wonderful thing about primary care. Sometimes you don’t know how great an impact you’ve had on someone’s life for months — sometimes years — after seeing them. You never know when your caring, your insight, your boldness in asking a question gets a patient to thinking, even if they never actually give you an answer at the time.
So even though I’m pretty sure you don’t remember her, know that you made a huge difference in her life, and that she is grateful specifically to you.
Lucy Hornstein is a family physician who blogs at Musings of a Dinosaur, and is the author of Declarations of a Dinosaur: 10 Laws I’ve Learned as a Family Doctor.