“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered,” you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed-or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”~Luke 10:41-42, NIV
It was an early morning in a very busy emergency department. I was tired after working several shifts that week but had still signed up to work an extra shift with an attending physician whom I admired. The patient we were seeing was a woman with a two-year history of abdominal pain. Over that time, she had repeated diagnostic tests, multiple consults, and even surgery. It looked as if there was nothing we could truly do to help her today, other than pain control.
As we entered her room, I had a million other things on my mind. I immediately took up a post against the wall to work on discharge paperwork for her, as well as another patient, along with a preliminary attempt at orders for a third patient. Vaguely, I was aware of my attending sitting down by the bed and beginning to engage in what sounded like a very involved conversation about how the patient’s life was going in general. “Great,” I remember thinking, “we don’t have time for this.”
I gradually began to tune in the conversation. Her pain had begun slowly and she ignored it at first; then as it increased, she began to search for a diagnosis. As specialist after specialist tried and failed to give an adequate answer, discouragement set in. She had to quit her job as a teacher because of symptoms, and she had also amassed numerous medical bills. Her husband, who was in the room, also expressed frustration and a desperate need for answers.
My attending listened to it all with compassion and empathy, expressing her own regrets that modern medicine had thus far failed to help. The couple admitted they knew there was nothing we could truly do today; they just thought Loma Linda University Medical Center would be their last hope. With true reason behind their visit in mind, my attending gave them contact information for our outpatient clinics, pain medication, and, most importantly, a prayer for healing and answers.
As we left the room, with the couple’s thanks ringing in my ears, my mind no longer dwelled on my paperwork. While I felt as though we had spent forever with them, by looking at the clock, I realized it had been only 15 minutes. I stepped aside into a hallway for a moment to think. What I had just seen went against everything commonly thought in regard to modern medicine-that you have to rush through patients in order to see all of them, that you cannot take time to connect.
The conversation made a significant impact upon our patient, truly addressed her deeper needs, and yet took no more time than seeing any other patient. I confronted my own cynicism and reminded myself that everyone has real concerns, worries, needs, and desires. As I went back to work, with a different perspective, I realized this lesson would make a lasting impact on my life and career. Just as Christ had time for the individual in the midst of the masses, so we, too, must take time to connect with our patients on an individual level.
-Molly Estes, LLUSM class of 2013, is an emergency resident at Stanford University Medical Center in California.