The week of orientation began rather anticlimactically, with lines and paperwork. The second day included fun pep-talks and boring safety speeches. On the third day, however, the tone changed. We heard from the top guys at the medical center. Students no longer let their eyes close heavily, nor whispered plans for the evening to their new-found potential soul mates. We sat up straight and at attention as we were told that we are on our way to becoming doctors. This means making sacrifices, we were told. One must be willing to work long hours and give up the idea of going home early for a birthday party. One should participate in many admirable organizations, become involved in research, sit on important boards, etc., even if it means one's spouse may threaten divorce. One should expect one's liver enzyme function to decrease, as there will be little time for drinking. Fortunately, we were also told that medical school will not only teach us science, but also how to function while fatigued, because we will almost always be fatigued.
But there is one more presentation, and I must tell you about it because it explains why we are all here. The doctor in charge of our curriculum walks to the podium and kindly asks, "How many of you woke this morning and thought, 'Wow! I'm a medical student.'?" He then begins what is known as the "First Patient" lecture. One of his patients, Mr. A., has agreed to come speak to us. The doctor asks him questions, as though he were a new patient of his, regarding a previous injury. Then we are called upon to ask questions. I am impressed by some of my classmates' questions. Mr. A. answers them all kindly, clearly and honestly. I am even more impressed by his knowledge of his condition.
You see, Mr. A. speaks simply, with imperfect grammar, but thoughtfully. He tells us that he has to use the dictionary when he goes home from the doctor's office in order to understand everything. That's a fine quality to find in a patient. He also tells us that his doctor really listens to him and discusses treatment options. He tells us that this is what we should learn from this doctor, because it will allow our patients to trust us. The doctor blushes. Mr. A. is a proud man, in the most positive sense of the word. I would guess that he has always worked blue-collar jobs and that his family is grateful for the life he has allowed them to realize. He is proud to have a wife and sons, who help him when his pain is most severe. Although he has not been able to work for over a year, he has not signed up for disability privileges because he is proud of what he was able to contribute to his community in the past and he is hopeful that he will regain those abilities. I find that to be quite respectable.
I hope that someday I will work with a patient like Mr. A.