Dear patients: Thank you for teaching me

Dear Patient(s),

Thank you for educating me.

Thank you for letting me shine bright lights into your eyes and place Q-tips up your nose. Thank you for not shooting me a dirty look when I ask you to lift up your pendulous breast so I can listen to your heart. Thank you for letting me ogle at your protuberant belly—whether it contains a baby, a liver tumor, or liters of fluid inside. Thank you for not experiencing an erection and for refraining from snide remarks when I examine your penis. Thank you for telling me that my speculum use is suboptimal and has caused you pain during your pelvic exam. Thank you for nearly kicking me in the face when I tap on your knees to test your reflexes. Thank you for peeing all over me after I remove your diaper.

Thank you for answering questions that, in any other context, are completely obnoxious and rude. Thank you for being honest with me when I ask if you are a prostitute, an IV drug user, or an alcoholic. Thank you for not assaulting me when I ask if you have sex with “men, women, or both”. Thank you for answering questions about hearing loss when you’re actually concerned about your chest pain. Thank you for not yelling at me in impatience when your back pain is “a ten out of ten”.

Thank you for telling me that it doesn’t seem like I am taking that symptom seriously. Thank you for not masking your facial expressions and allowing your face to contort in offense when I phrase a question or statement poorly. Thank you for saying “OW” when I do something that causes you pain. Thank you for screaming in my face for the duration of our time together after I look into your ears.

Thank you for letting me wake you up at 4:30am for the sole purpose of allowing me to examine your belly wound. Thank you for letting me wake you up at 8:30am, a mere ten minutes after you fell asleep after being up all night and writhing in agony in the ER. Thank you for asking me if I could get your a cup of water or ice chips. Thank you for reminding me that your thirst matters more to you right now than the fact that your potassium level is uncomfortably low.

Thank you for apologizing when you throw up all over yourself—not that you should, but your mindfulness in that moment illuminates a strength that you have that I don’t know that I would have in that moment. Thank you for crying in front of me. Thank you for sharing your deepest fears with me. Thank you for asking me to leave so you can spend time with your family, all of whom are devastated with your prognosis. Thank you for asking me to sit with you. Thank you for asking me to listen. Thank you for reminding me that sometimes, being present with patients is more important than writing for another antibiotic.

Thank you for answering questions that you have already answered for five other people. Thank you for not yelling at me when I ask the same question twice in the same interview. Thank you for refraining from comments like “You’re totally imcompetent” when attending physicians have brought up a diagnostic or therapeutic possibility that I had completely overlooked (or just did not know). Thank you for not spitting in my face when all I seem to say is “I don’t know”. Thank you for not throwing things at me while I nod off when the attending physician is speaking to you.

Thank you for telling me that you have thought about killing another person. Thank you for your attempts at pushing my buttons, whether it be through questioning my technical knowledge, academic status, or medical specialty. Thank you for sneering at me.

Thank you for calling me “doctor” when I don’t feel like one at all. Thank you for saying “thank you” when you’re getting better—in spite of me, not because of me. Thank you for poking fun at me for the express purpose of making me laugh. Thank you for giving me a hug before you leave the hospital. Thank you for smiling at me.

Medical school and residency training involves a lot of reading, tests, and studying. But the truth is, you are our best and most effective teachers. And for that, I thank you.


Maria Yang is a psychiatrist who blogs at In White Ink.

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