Influential case #3

Near the end of my third year of medical school I met a middle-aged African American man with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, commonly referred to as Lou Gehrig’s disease. He was unable to walk and slurred his speech.

While he was hospitalized, we had many long conversations about health, life, friends and family. I enjoyed listening to his stories. When he was discharged, he invited me to his house for lunch. I gratefully accepted and traveled to his Brooklyn apartment.

Upon arriving, I was greeted by his lovely wife and children. They directed me to a small couch in the living room and, as I sat, his wife handed me a small photo from just a few years before. Staring back at me was a sleek, muscular, highly trained professional athlete at the pinnacle of his career. I recognized the eyes and smile of my new friend, but few other details bore a resemblance to his current state.

Over lunch I learned of a life once lived and came to know the true essence of my patient much better.

Moral of the story: This case taught me that it is OK to become friends with some of my patients. You can understand them better as social beings and not simply carriers of disease.

I must disclose that many of my colleagues disagree with me on this point.

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