I had the honor of caring for a woman who was 101 years old. She was born in 1916, before most people owned a car. She lived through the roaring twenties and WWII. She was in her middle age during the social revolution of the 60s and 70s. She was already a grandmother when I was born.
There is something sacred about being in the presence of an aged one. They are living monuments to history. Even though I am in in my middle years, I feel like a child when I am with someone like this. It must be strange to have someone seventy years your junior take care of you. I feel like they are tolerating me as I learn my way through life. It makes me feel safe. It gives me a good perspective on life. The problems that seem to consume my moments and days are so temporary. Even the great movements of history seem small and fleeting.
This kind old woman just wanted to be seen for her constipation. Her evaluation and workup for unremarkable. Because she had poor hearing, I had to sit close to her bed and talk loudly. When I did this she looked up and smiled. She patted my cheek with her hand like I was a toddler and said, "Oh, now I can see you. You're so pretty!" It wasn't the pretty part that got my attention. I'm quite certain she wouldn't be a very good judge of pretty based on her eyesight. But the words, I can see you, got my attention.
How many times do I rush through my interactions with patients to get on to the diagnosis, treatment, and disposition. I barely take the time to really see my patients. I almost never let them really see me. But this lady showed me that there is something powerful in human connection. When we can see each other it makes us better. We can communicate, understand, and support each other.
I would like to take more time to really see my patients. I would like to sit with them a little longer and hear their stories. It would probably help if I let them see me too. I'm quite certain that there is more trust and more collaboration when patients feel like they know a little about me too.
"What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us." - Ralph Waldo Emerson