I learned how to listen
I am probably the worst basketball player you have ever met. I severely lack hand-eye coordination and my shooting form leaves much to be desired. My sister Chiragi and I spent many days on the courts attempting to improve my skills. However, the most vital improvements came when I joined a team of strangers. They taught me how to dribble, how to defend, and even how to anticipate the movements of my opponents. It was through being involved in a team that I was able to learn about my strengths and weaknesses and was able to see how I can fit into the dynamics of the group and contribute. I want to reach out to patients the same way that strangers reached out to me. I want to teach and involve them as team members in their own health.
In May of 2014, Chiragi was diagnosed with dermatomyositis. We spent the following year at the University of Michigan Hospital and witnessed her journey through the rapid decline in her condition from a health conscious individual to a lifeless mass and her return to a fully functioning human being. It was there that I found my interest in medicine. The physicians and staff at the hospital truly treated us as their own family members and helped us when we were in trouble not only physically, but emotionally as well. They were gentle, kind, and nothing short of brilliant. They are the reason that my sister was able to walk again. A few years later, when ScribeAmerica came to my university and told us they were expanding and looking for scribes to work at the University of Michigan, I jumped at the opportunity to work with the doctors that had brought life back to my sister.
I learned many things throughout my scribing experience, but most importantly, I learned how to listen. One of the patients, named Vicki, had seen multiple doctors in the past, but none of them were able to resolve her issue. She had a serious case of lymphoedema and her legs had swollen to the size of tree trunks. I noticed she was on disability benefits. Her illness prevented her from working. Upon reviewing her psychiatric notes, it seemed that she was also suffering from clinical depression and feelings of hopelessness. She had become removed from society by her illness, and she had a distraught look on her face as if she had seen a ghost. I could tell that her mind must have been running to countless places, but she was finally able to muster enough courage to ask the physician, "can you help me, doctor?"
Whenever Dr. Wakefield walked into a patient's room he would always pull up a chair and listen to the patient's complaints in a non-judgmental way. He was building trust in the physician-patient relationship and was effectively leveling the playing field between patient and physician. I learned that to truly involve the patient in their own care, one must listen with an open mind and a positive attitude. It was through these small yet caring gestures that Dr. Wakefield had built relationships with his patients. They trusted him not because of his intelligence or his commanding nature, but because he treated them as human beings. It was through this trust that patients chose to listen and learn from him.
I took the lessons that I learned at the hospital with me to the St. Vincent Sarah Fischer Center. There, I came in contact with a population of individuals who had not only lost everything they cared about but had lost their self-confidence in themselves as well. Through forces that were out of their control, they were left with nowhere to live and were reaching out to anyone that could help them get back on their feet. As a tutor, I could help them regain their confidence. But as a companion during their hardships, I could do much more.
One of the students that I worked with was Brian, a middle-aged man who had lost everything that he held dear. When I first met him, he was shy and reserved. He did not get along well with any of the tutors and would be quick to throw in the towel. At one point, he didn't show up for lessons for a whole month, and I started to get worried. I asked my supervisor for his phone number so I could get into contact with him to find out what happened. As we spoke on the phone, I was beginning to get a sense of what was going on in Brian's world. As a young man, he had lost his family. Subsequently, because of the grief, he had to leave his job and ended up losing his house and car. He was isolated by his circumstances. He no longer found joy in anything and was only a shadow of his former self. I knew that his best days were still ahead of him, and I wanted him to see that for himself. I was able to lend Brian an ear for his grievances, and help him as a friend on his journey to whatever he labeled as a return to his best quality of life. I was able to bring him back to the team and involve him in his own care.
It took me a long time to understand why I wanted to go into medicine. In many ways, becoming a physician was the path that I was walking long before I knew I was on that path at all. Whether it was through illness or through an unfortunate set of circumstances, both Vicki and Brian were removed from society through no fault of their own. As a member of the underserved myself, their stories resonate with my own. I want to be able to help my patients in the same way that strangers helped me feel like a valued member of a team. I want to be able to bring people like Vicki and Brian back to society. Back to the team. I want to involve my patients in their own care by working with them in order to give them the tools that they need in order to succeed and have the best quality of life they can have.