Posts Tagged ‘Health’

I first met Edwin (not his real name) one Saturday in September 2011.  He was around 5 feet 4 inches tall but was all skin and bones that his slight mother could actually carry him with very little effort in her arms.  Bedridden, unable to talk, and with a nasogastric tube stuck into his nose, he did not present a very comfortable sight.  Edwin has SSPE, or subacute sclerosing pancephalitis, actually been living with it for the past two years.  He was then only 11 years old.  SSPE usually occurs at around the age of 9-11 in children who have had measles before the age of 2 or before they had been vaccinated against the disease.  It is a rare sequelae of untreated measles but it happened to Edwin.  His family lives in a single-room house in one of the most impoverished and least sanitary areas in urban Metro Manila – Payatas.

The medstudent organization of which I’ve been part of for the past three years is socially- and health-oriented.  As such, it is typical for the health coordinator to impart with us some of the community’s health-related troubles from time to time.  More often than not, the problem is usually public health in nature.  However, when the health coordinator quietly asked me to go with her that particular Saturday to meet a family with a special health problem, the first thought that popped into my mind was that I was going to meet a family with a bedridden elderly patient, most probably diabetic, hypertensive, or stroked out.

According to one doctor who wanted to volunteer his services by alleviating Edwin’s pain through acupuncture, Edwin was facing a <20% chance of survival.  Despite the helpful tone of his text message, the underlying question was, “Why are you wasting your time on that?” In all honesty, I do not know but, having met Edwin, having spoken to his mother who had been crying the whole time she was talking about the difficulties that came with Edwin’s condition, it is difficult not to “waste” some time on this.

Every time my orgmates and I would return to the community once or twice every month since then, visiting Edwin and his family became a routine.  He may not know any of us, not really.  I certainly was not a lot of help since I do not have money, connections, influence, or even the adequate knowledge to truly help.  But, for families struggling with a chronic disease, emotional support means a whole lot and can go a long way in lifting morale.

How did I get to know Edwin?  I never really did.  Maybe I never will.

Yes, I want you to cry at this point.  That is exactly my intention when I started writing this piece.

Most doctors tend to remember specific diseases by the signs and symptoms presented by their patients.  These patients eventually lose their faces and individualities in these doctors’ minds by the time these doctors’ have mastered those said diseases.  Of course, it is imperative for doctors to master diseases to be able to conquer them with effective treatment plans in the future.  However, perhaps we do a disservice to ourselves and to the faces that embodied those diseases by forgetting the patients who have taught us not just to be competent doctors but how to be human as well.  Those patients were not, are not, and will never be a waste of time.

 

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moi

Rarely do I particularly write about the people I deal with on a daily basis because I have found a long time ago that it tends to get one in a lot of trouble if one is found out.  However, I am going to make a rare exception simply because I find it so fascinating that she is the only person I know so far who has ever had the cojones to admit to wanting to pursue a career in, wait for it, Geriatrics.

Geriatrics… the very word itself sounds so unappetizing that one could just wonder why she had ever considered it as a specialty.  Pediatrics is unappetizing to me as well but, in itself, it already is hardcore simply because kids as patients are so damn difficult to deal with.  It takes a certain amount of talent and skill to engage kids and make them cooperate.  Internal medicine is hardcore as well because it takes a bad ass to have complete confidence in one’s self to be able to diagnose something without directly seeing it, which sounds frustrating to me.  Surgery is the most hardcore of them all because one gets to open up another human being and directly see what one is doing with one’s hands – lesser probability of screwing up that way.

Geriatrics, on the other hand, sounds so staid, boring and, I have to admit, a little bit depressing.  One classmate actually verbalized it in a way I probably could never have:  “Geriatrics is the safest specialty ever.  If your patient dies, nobody’d care anyway.” Witty, so witty.  People did laugh out loud but, after much philosophizing over the matter (because I have so much time in my hands, you know), I have realized that it had got to be one of the more insensitive things we could ever say about the people who’ve seen more than we’ve ever had, who’ve lived through pain more than we’ve ever had, and who’d survived through all of it and have the scars to prove it.

In one lecture on Geriatrics, it was mentioned that a person reaches the point of being completely comfortable with himself when he is already at his fifth or sixth decade of life.  That actually surprised me and brought me down a bit.  See, the day I hit my twenties, I had sent a silent prayer of thanksgiving to the Lord, rejoicing that my awkward pre-twenties phase was finally ending.  Now, although I believe myself to be quite happy and content with the person that I have become, I realize that I am so far from that point where the old and the wise now stand.  When you’re in your twenties, you haven’t exactly lived yet and, in a way, it’s another phase of life you just have to understand yet again.  While those who are already in their fifties and sixties?  Those are people who’ve already lived and seen it all.  Those are people who are comfortable in their own skin because they’ve been through so much already as themselves.  How could one not respect experience?

Now, this girl who wanted Geriatrics as a specialty?  She wanted it because she grew up with old people around the house.  She wanted to learn how to take care of them specifically.  Although I’m sure there are more and deeper reasons behind this desire of hers, this simply reinforced what I have long ago believed to be the truth.  A medical doctor’s specialization says a lot about that doctor – what matters to him, what drives him, and what he was brought up with.  One cannot simply go into something and live with it happily without a motivation driving the need and the desire, be it money or something else.

Geriatrics is a noble medical specialty.  To have the desire to take care of those who’d painstakingly paved the way for us to become who we are now is just plain amazing.  Why do old people matter?  Because we’re all going to become them someday.