Emotion General Lifestyle

Thank you for being a patient: A reflection on gratitude and its place in medicine.

I was walking through Target a few days ago when I noticed a banner had been discarded in a pile of clearance items. “Give Thanks,” it read. Assuming that the banner was a Thanksgiving leftover, I quickly moved along to a different aisle. Later that day, I started thinking about that banner, and its lowly place in the clearance bin. Gratitude has become a seasonal commodity. From November to mid-December, we’re reminded to give thanks, be grateful, and celebrate others through food and gifts. Unfortunately, the half-off banner serves as a reminder that the notion of gratitude can become “out-of-season” as we turn the page on the calendar.

One of my personal rules for daily life is to live each and every day with a grateful heart. I think this idea comes from having practiced yoga for more than a decade, where gratitude is a foundational tenant. At the end of almost every yoga class I have ever attended, both teacher and students bow their heads and say, “‘Namaste.” Namaste is a Sanskrit word which, loosely translated, means ‘the goodness in me honors the goodness in you.’ For me, this sacrosanct moment at the end of class is what makes yoga different from any other activity I have engaged in. As the instructor thanks me for allowing him or her to share the practice of yoga, I can both thank the instructor, as well as take a moment to thank myself for taking the time to do something good for myself. In contrasting my own personal attitude of gratitude with the Hallmark-esque notion that gratitude is a seasonal commodity, I began to wonder what place gratitude might have in the practice of medicine.

In my brief time as a student doctor, I have witnessed patients struggling with complex challenges that I never even considered prior to medical school. It’s true that many patients will visit us when they have a stuffy nose or an itchy rash, but just as important are patients who see us when they are struggling to quit addictions, deal with a major life change, or manage their own healthcare on a limited budget. It is these patients, especially, with whom it is imperative that we as healthcare providers work with to build trusting relationships. I believe that the first step of building such a relationship is an expression of gratitude. I want to thank patients for being brave, for reaching out, and for asking to get help. I want to tell them how very grateful I am that they have respected themselves enough to value their health, and for trusting me, or one of my colleagues, to help them make very important and potentially challenging life changes. Essentially, I want to say Namaste.

As we leave behind the snow-dusted magic of the holiday season, we should not let gratitude melt away like a snowman. Gratitude should be a part of our daily lives and a cornerstone of our medical practice. It only takes a moment to let our patients know how thankful we are for being part of their journey to wellness, but I predict that the impact it has on our physician-patient relationships will be long lasting.


Featured image:
The Stethoscope by Alex Proimos


For Med17: Thank you.

I find a glimmer of light.
It is the shape of a keyhole
and wavers. I crawl
blindly in a sudden desperate desire
to find the lock
and the source of light that is behind it.
The keys in my pocket jangle.

When I am in the hospital I am a stranger
amongst other strangers. Only
because I am wearing a white coat
I am supposed to know where
to go. The hallways bustle with white noise.
I hug myself and move quickly so no one
can see me shaking.

There are several keys in my pocket.
Keys made to open to secure
to keep safe to rescue.
Keys that are purposeful and always always
come with a lock. But there
one key is still being formed
is new and raw
is lockless.

The streets are full of ice
and wherever I step
the dark glimmer cracks.
I feel that if I am not careful
I may miscalculate a step and then
the crystal surface of my confidence
will collapse, will bring me ankle-deep
in barely frozen water rushing unintuitively upwards
rising into my socks past my white coat
soaking my barely used scrubs
ice-water surging towards my knees
femur gasping in its acetabulum
thoracic spine shaking
like a suffocating fish.
I am drowning in the thought that
I am not enough.
The snowbanks drip in the sunlight
and sparkle.

I sit amidst all my past and present identities
and begin to make out a new one ahead.
It is mirrored in the M4s: knowledgeable mature
scruffy in a responsible doctor-like way.
Will I too become like them?
I am not afraid of how I might change but rather
what I will lose after a year in the hospital.
The lock to my growing key remains unknown.
And yet, I sense its existence—
a path of light filtering through the darkness
towards me…

…and you too. Your light
your key
your lock
our journey.

Med17: thank you
for the past two years
and for the years to come.
I have my key in one hand
and your hands in the other
as we search for our hidden locks together. We walk
and look and celebrate when one of us finds a lock that fits
that opens up a bright new world of excitement.
Where will you be?
Where will I? Only time and walking and sharing together will tell.
And the doors one day will open
leading to new rooms and new doors
and our keys will jangle
like the sound of clapping hands
like the sound of many smiles
breaking ice.


Featured image courtesy of Stephanie Wang Zuo