10 Tips from Mr. X

 

A few months ago, on the last day of my inpatient internal medicine rotation, I had the absolute pleasure of taking care of a very special patient. A nonagenarian with the spirit of a teenager, Mr. X, could be heard from down the hall and preferred if you spoke loudly with him, not at him, during rounds. He was sharp and knowledgeable about his medical history and health conditions. With his glasses, hearing aid, and personality, he kind of reminded me of the grandpa from the movie Up, but at the end of the movie when his personality is more upbeat and enjoyable.

A favorite patient of my attending and the nursing staff, he was always surrounded by people, but I finally managed to get a few minutes with him to chat. After updating him about his condition, I found us discussing some interesting topics. He asked where I was from- where I was really from- which led to a conversation about immigration. After using some choice words to describe his distaste for the current political climate and immigration changes, he said that one of the greatest things about America was that everyone was different and that ‘melting pot’ environment really made you get out of your comfort zone and, in his experience, forced people to interact with those different from them, which helped them learn about the world. Mr. X is a WW2 veteran and spent years travelling through Europe and parts of Africa. He said he most appreciated these differences in people when he’d return from his trips abroad. He enjoyed learning about geography and history, and was working through a series of biographies about famous historical figures.

In addition to serving the country, Mr. X was an economist and mechanical engineer. A Texas native and semi-local to the Houston-Galveston area, he spoke passionately about education, a favorite topic of mine. We discussed our educational histories and motivations, which led us to talking about medicine and school. Sometimes, when people find out I’m in medical school, they say something like “Oh, that’s amazing- I could never do it” or “that sounds really hard” and end the conversation. Mr. X, in a manner similar to those of physicians who trained in a different generation, had little pity or glorification. He recognized the work I had put in to get to where I was, but finished by telling me that this work would never end, that it was important, and I had to make sure I studied-very hard- every day for the rest of my life because what I knew mattered. This sentiment is extremely accurate, but hearing it at all, and especially from a patient, was different and refreshing.

More recently, Mr. X has taken to directing a summertime band that plays in the park in the evening. He spoke about his love for music and how important it was to know how to dance properly (especially if a guy wants to get the girl). He said music moved him in ways reading and art did not, and in his elder years, he still wanted to experience all that life offered.

My visit with Mr. X soon came to an end, as he was taken down for imaging. He was discharged home the next day and though I have not kept up with him since that admission, I think about my interaction with him often. I admire his spunk, energy, and candor. I think about what he told me about school when I feel unmotivated or lackluster about studying. When I go dancing with friends, or listen to music, I try to take an extra moment to appreciate what I’m doing and what I’m feeling. In medicine, there are many types of patients you care for and meet. I remember a lot of my patients and I find that each one- whether they’re difficult or easy, quiet or chatty, young or old, has something to teach me. There are many times when I leave a patient’s room and I feel lucky to be allowed into their personal lives and I often thank them for speaking to me, a stranger and a student. Mr. X is just one of many who was particularly memorable and special. A few minutes before he left, I asked him to give me 10 Tips he’d learned about life that I could share with others.

Here’s what he had to say:

  1. Work, and work very hard at whatever you do, because it matters to someone.
  2. The patient* is always right.
  3. Think beyond the little things and consider the consequences of your actions.
  4. The secret to life is Ovaltine. Drink it.
  5. Respect your country and respect each other.
  6. Do something in life that you’re passionate about.
  7. Music is life. Learn it.
  8. Learn to dance properly- jumping around like fools doesn’t count.
  9. The secret to love is to touch each other.
  10. Take 3 courses in economics to better understand how the world works.
*patient is interchangeable with other words, but to remember that the person you’re serving is the one who matters

 

-Janani

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