As I enter the exam room, I hear, “Don’t get old honey!”
As a physician caring for a large population of geriatric patients in Florida, I hear this approximately five times a day. To this statement, I always reply, “There’s no alternative, though!” I also try not to get offended by repeatedly being called “honey.” Although I am waiting to someday state; “it’s Doctor Honey.” Usually, my level is offense is dependent on who is calling me honey. Today it’s a ninety-four-year-old spitfire wearing hot pink lipstick, so I let it pass. In fact, I would let anything Celeste do pass. She is one of my favorite patients. She comes in every three months, smelling of roses and wearing matching jewelry. She always asks me if I’ve found her a boyfriend yet. Considering her personality and that she still drives a car, she is quite the catch for her age. I have thought about introducing her to the concept of match.com, but I’m not sure the world of internet dating is ready for her. I have also considered making a “match” bulletin board in the office hallway, but I’m not sure that would send the right message to the rest of the practice.
My next patient of the day is a new patient. He appears to be a sweet older gentleman wearing a Korean War veteran hat. Unfortunately, he looks very anxious, and his blood pressure is off the chart. When I ask him his concerns, he quietly tells me about how he is worried he has a urinary tract infection. He hesitates to tell me that his symptoms have been ongoing for two months, but he adds that doctors make him nervous. I reassure him that this type of infection is easily treatable, and it is much less of a worry than anything he has already conquered being a war veteran. After I electronically send a prescription for Cipro to his pharmacy, he relaxes. He then gives me a firm handshake, and he tells me how grateful he is that I saw him today.
The third patient this day is an eighty-two-year-old lady with a history of atrial fibrillation on Xarelto with a left-hand wound that “won’t stop bleeding.” She has made her own bandage consisting of several pieces of gauze that she has used safety pins to keep together. She also has her hand in a zip-lock bag that is oozing blood. After I slowly unwrap her peculiar creation, I find a semi-circular skin tear. I clean and quickly cauterize it. After applying a new bandage, she confesses that her daughter died yesterday of lung cancer. I give her a hug and sit down to listen because I know that is why she is really here.
Despite the fact that these patients are coming in for my care, their gratitude is incredibly rewarding to me as well. Their stories and backgrounds help me gain perspective. In this era, where physicians are experiencing more and more burnout, creating sincere relationships with patients is essential. The geriatric population offers a unique opportunity to build meaningful bonds.
Sarah C. Smith is a family physician.
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