I’ve held many hands, been generous with my hugs, and tried to treat every patient as though they were my mother. I lost my mother to leukemia almost one decade ago. I know what it’s like to feel defeated by the health care system, by health care providers, by medications, and by the human body’s response to all of the above.
A patient will never forget a health care provider that took the time to make sure they understood their health status. Sometimes the best medicine is being able to grasp exactly what is going on. A patient with a solid knowledge base does not have a chance to question death when death isn’t even a possible outcome.
One of my patients was in her third decade of life when she learned she carried the BRCA gene. Testing positive for either BRCA1 or BRCA2 increases a person’s likelihood of developing breast cancer during their lifetime. She was distraught, upset, and kept reiterating, “Life will never be the same.” The information she had just received was devastating but she still had a long promising life ahead, after all, she did not have cancer. To avoid living the nightmare many women in her family faced, she was mulling over the idea of undergoing prophylactic mastectomies.
That day she was correct about one thing: Life would never be the same. By proceeding forward with surgery, she was decreasing her probability of developing breast cancer. With monumental advances in medicine and the advent of genetic testing, she may very well have prolonged her life expectancy by opting for surgery. That day I held her hand, and I tried to pass on strength through the grips of my fingers. I said a prayer for her without her even knowing and tried to empower her with positive words and thoughts. The journey ahead was going to be long, but we were going to face it with courage together.
It is easy to assume a robotic role in medicine. As we close one exam room door and open the next, we become fixated on trying to see our patients on time. The clock serves as a constant reminder that time is advancing faster than we can keep up. In turn, sometimes our bedside manner is compromised. There have been moments when I have had to remind myself: Medicine is more than just prescriptions, procedures, and long discussions about conditions that patients never asked for.
For that reason I am not afraid to offer a hug, place my hand on a shoulder that needs comforting, or offer a hand to hold. I hope when my patients think of me and cannot recall my name; they remember the PA that genuinely cared. As health care providers, we may not know all of the answers or have the cure, but we should always strive to make the journey a little easier by simple acts of kindness.
Charishma Nayyar is a physician assistant who blogs at PAsRISE.
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