Wonder about each patient outside the exam room

I pass by one of our local parochial schools on the way to clinic two mornings a week. With the school year in full swing, each Friday I see the children lining up outside to go to weekly Mass. With the girls in their grey tartan skirts and blue vests and the boys in their blue shirts and pants, they form a colorful, large nameless entity to which I don’t pay much attention usually as I pass by.

However, last week, as I was waiting at the crosswalk near the school, a patient from our clinic and her mother crossed the street. I have known her literally her entire life as well as her older siblings, with the family being with us well over a decade. In my head I recalled her last visit a few weeks ago, her favorite things to do, her favorite color, her trepidations of starting a new school year and her genuine joy in receiving a backpack from one of our residents (as part of our school supply drive). I recalled how her mom is so very proud of her and loves seeing her daughter happy. I also recalled how mom was worried sick last winter when her daughter got a serious viral illness. I finally recalled this girl’s hilarious uncontrollable laughter at a joke her brother said at a visit a few years back. I was surprised by how quickly these memories flooded my mind.

However, even with knowing her and mom relatively well, I realized that I am just skimming the surface. This mom knows her daughter’s favorite foods and clothes, but more importantly, her fears and hopes and many of her inner thoughts. She has seen her daughter cry and laugh, struggle and succeed. Yet, even mom has not fully mined into this infinite being that was crossing the street in front of me.

As I slowly pulled past the school, the nameless blob of color-coordinated children seemed no more. No longer did a see a mass of hundreds of uniforms, but now hundreds of individuals. Each of these children is known to some extent by their teachers, their doctors, their friends and much more so by their parents. Each of these children is unique in their own special ways.

Clinic that morning was busy, as usual, and there were stressful moments, especially with new residents recently joining us and still learning the clinic routine. Yet, my perspective changed and as I went from room to room, I found myself thinking a subconscious “thank you” towards the families and patients for allowing me the honor of getting to know them at least somewhat.

Augustine of Hippo said it very well in the 4th century: “People travel to wonder at the heights of the mountains, at the huge waves of the sea, at the long courses of rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motion of the stars; and they pass by themselves without wondering.” Let’s wonder as we see our next patient.

Alexander Rakowsky is a pediatrician.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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