But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. “Friend,” he asked, “how did you get in here without wedding clothes?” The man was speechless. ~ Matthew 22:11-12, NIV

It was during my first days as a junior medical student. John E. Peterson, LLUSM class of 1939, chief of medicine for LLUMC, was making daily rounds with the residents, interns, and medical students. There was a definite pecking order in these rounds, with the senior resident close to Dr. Peterson’s side and taking notes, followed by a cascade of more minor members of the team.

Interestingly, a kind of medial pomp was also evident. The chief asked a question and answers were quickly supplied. There would be impatience by the senior resident if an intern or student had to consult the chart to retrieve the results of a lab test or x-ray. If we came upon a patient and the differential diagnosis list provided by a student was pitifully small, Dr. Peterson took charge. He would quickly cite an incredibly long list of conditions that might manifest exactly the same way, in regard to the patient lying before us.

In one room, our crowd caught the patient emerging from the bathroom. She was wrapped in a hospital gown and stood there in her bare feet while her case was discussed. Dr. Peterson addressed her directly and asked if she had any problems with which he could help. She quickly pointed to her right foot and indicated a problem with one of her toes.

Dr. Peterson immediately dropped to his knees on the floor, put on his glasses, and took her foot in his hands. The residents and students dropped back to make room. He made a detailed examination of her foot and toes and asked further questions regarding her symptoms. This minor concern had been ignored by the students and residents as being not really relevant to her primary problem. But it had Dr. Peterson’s attention.

Something immediately clicked in my mind. While major medical problems must be addressed during hospital stay, even the smallest issues should be investigated and documented. Seeing Dr. Peterson on his knees, holding the patient’s foot, reminded me of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet. This great professor of medicine was focused on the patient, not the crowd around him.

I determined, at that very moment, to always humble myself before my patients and to show the greatest concern for their every need, no matter how large or how small. I wanted to be like John Peterson and Jesus.

Elvin Adams, LLUSM class of 1967, is an internist specializing in HIV disease. He and his wife, Marie, reside in Burleson, Texas