Friday, July 03, 2009
Of cockatiels and trumpets
Some of my patients are 'difficult' insofar as I am stumped as to what they need and how to improve their health situation. One such customer was a middle-aged lady plagued with pain, poverty, and depression. She was a large lady, and part of each appointment was spent in the slow walk from the waiting to the exam room which she negotiated one tedious step at a time with the help of two canes. She always arrived with copious pencil-written notes about her days spent doing little other than getting by.
What her notes never included, however, were tales of her cockatiels. Who knew she raised birds? I certainly didn't. I'm not sure how it even came up, but once we discussed her birds, everything seemed to change. She still came armed with those torn notebook pages full of complaints, but she was also the person who brought pictures of her birds and their tiny little-finger sized hatchlings. She was now, for me, the bird lover who struggled with pain rather than just the pain.
Yesterday's new patient was a nervous young man who at 23 had an engineering degree and spent his working days making sure that the calculations made by his firm on bridge design were correct. I remember a magazine article on school standards (and their increasing laxity) that asked the reader whether or not they would care to drive across a bridge designed by someone in the lowest quartile of their engineering class. My first impression of this fellow was that he'd be a good one to have beneath the bridge upon which we drive with nary a thought as to its safety.
At the end of the physical, I asked him if he planned to go on to a higher degree in engineering. He answered that he felt that engineering was going to be the job that supports his real loves in life, namely playing the trumpet. I'd like, I thought, to drive across bridges designed by this engineer who plays the trumpet. No need anymore for either of us to be nervous.