“How long have you been doing this?” he asked, eyes gleaming with admiration. I was unsure whether he was asking how long I had been conducting patient interviews or how long I had been a medical student. I decided on the latter.
“2 years,” I replied with a confident smile across my chin.
“Well, you’re very good!”
“Thank you,” I replied, almost a whisper. It was a compliment that I was definitely not expecting on my first day there. The surprise and joy mingled inside me, and I emerged in the on-call room beaming with joy and grinning from ear to ear.
“Why are you so excited?” my colleague asked, the confusion spangled over her eyebrows. She could literally see the enthusiasm radiating on my skin. I was finding it impossible to contain.
“I love seeing patients,” I told her. Those words did not do justice to the inexpressible feeling within me.
He was my first real patient during my clinical rotations, and that was my first non-standardized patient interview. His words uplifted and encouraged me. I was assured that I was in the right profession. I will never forget him. We formed a good student doctor-patient relationship, and he was happy to see me every morning even though I woke him up early to gather information for 6 a.m. ward rounds. We talked and laughed; I gave high 5s when he had bowel movements, I congratulated him when his white blood cell count decreased.
Although I was off for the weekend and another student assisted with his surgery, we maintained our relationship. I checked up on him periodically, gave him answers, drew out intestines on a piece of paper to enable him visualize my explanations and to ease his doubts and confusions. It brought so much joy to me just to be there, watch him heal, assist in his care and to show him that the team was working tirelessly for his good.
On the day he was discharged, I unexpectedly left the room with tears in my eyes. He had a previous hip surgery, but old and feeble as he was, he wore that tuft of cotton wool hair like a crown and stood up in difficulty to give me a hug. He assured me that I would be a wonderful doctor. He was confident in my abilities. My heart broke. I would possibly never see him again. I told him that if we met again, I hoped it would not be in the hospital. We did not want him to be ill again after all.
Not every patient encounter has been like that. I perfectly understand that it is difficult to look beyond the present situation of pain and illness and to develop camaraderie with the people caring for you. I’ve been told to “get out,” and “just do your job.” However, I can empathize with the situation. I realize that individuals handle stress differently, but within, all are truly grateful for the care that they are given.
I have been shown support and respect from all angles. I have had the opportunity to see cases that I had only read about in the pages of a book come to life before me. The illnesses are no longer words. They are now real people with hopes, fears, and a family, at an arduous moment in life. It is the perfect opportunity for the union of intellect and compassion our part.
My first rotation was an amazing and eye-opening experience. It was definitely not easy, but as with all challenges, it was rewarding. I learned lifelong lessons that I deeply appreciate and will apply throughout my years as a physician. I look forward to the experiences to come, believing that they are all impeccably orchestrated by the maker of the universe, and I am eternally grateful.
Ezinwanneamaka Morayo Ejiofor is a medical student. This piece was originally published in Pulse — voices from the heart of medicine.
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