The Sandwich, The Bananas and The Blind

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A patient came in for follow up consult today after being confined in the hospital for elevated blood pressure. She was grateful that I took her case even though at the onset she stated that she did not have any money on her. I told her that if I didn’t take care of her when I did, she might have ended up with a stroke or worse a heart attack. Although she’s still not out of the woods yet she is thankful that she now knows what she has and with the right medications and motivation, she can still enjoy a rewarding life ahead of her. I told her that her consultation today was on me. She can pay me the next time she visits for consult. It was then that she said no, and gave me two bunches of bananas. She insists that she will pay me for my services as soon as she is able, that the bananas were a thank you gift. I could not say no and graciously accepted them.

It made me think of the time when I was still a clinical clerk (4th year medical student) doing rotations in the department of ophthalmology, I had come to see a patient who came in for consult at the outpatient clinics for a much needed eye surgery. When I saw her all she had was light perception, but if operated on there was a chance that she could see again. Being in the charity service, there was a lot of work to be done and papers to be filled out. I did all that I can to help her out. It took us almost half the day to finish, but it was all in a day’s work for me. She asked me what my name was and I told her. I won’t forget you she told me. And they went home to get some of the other requirements. I saw them a few more times in the OPD but then we were to rotate in general surgery already, so I never did know what happened to her after.

Until after a rather busy tour of duty, in the flurry of activity in the surgery quarters, someone called out my name and was handing me a package of what seemed like food. “Your breakfast” he said. “From who?” I asked. He mentions the name and in my half asleep, half awake state I realized that it was the name of the patient I had helped before. Apparently she was already admitted and was scheduled for surgery that day.

Eventually, I did find to time to visit her and see how she was doing. She was already in the ward, but still with bandages over her eyes. “Oh, it’s you” she said when I greeted her “did you get the food that I sent you?” I responded in the affirmative and advised her not to strain herself as she just underwent surgery. Again I thanked her for the kind gesture but she was quick to say that she was just giving what is due to her “doctor”.

At another time, as part of our rotation in the department of obstetrics and gynecology, we needed to complete a month of outside rotation from our private teaching hospital to a government institution, either at East Avenue Medical Center or at Quirino Memorial Memorial Medical Center. Half of the team went to the Quirino Questors while I was with the East Avenue Avengers.

At one time during my duty at the delivery room there was a patient who looked famished and asked, no she begged me actually, if I could call her husband for her. Since I couldn’t leave my post, I said no. But a feeling of guilt and sympathy took the better of me and I asked if there was anything else I could do instead. She said if it was possible for me to text her husband to bring her food. I obliged and a few hours later I found her eating a sandwich, presumably the one her husband brought for her. She had even offered me a bite which I respectfully declined, even if my body probably did need some form of nourishment as well. I was off to my other duties and between assisting in the residents, doing post op orders and generally just trying to survive, I never saw her again. She would just be another nameless patient I had encountered in my tour of duty, nothing of major significance. Or so I thought.

A few days before we were to leave the hospital I heard someone calling by an unfamiliar title “Doctor, doctor!” they said. It was a while before I realized who they were. It was the sandwich lady. I did not recognize her because she was in a much better state than when I saw her at the delivery room. For one thing she was cleaner and looked refreshed. And she did not look famished anymore. But the dead giveaway was that she could now afford to smile. “I’m on my way home. We’ve been discharged already. I just wanted to thank you” she said. “You were the only one who was kind enough to help me.” I was at a loss for words so just I bid them good luck and to take care of their most precious possession, but by the smile upon their face, I knew that whatever the day was still to bring, it was all going to be worth it.

They teach us all kinds of stuff in med school from how to diagnose diseases to what medications to give them, but here in the hallways of an understaffed overworked government hospital a patient has taught me that an act of kindness no matter how small or insignificant it may seem, goes a long way.

So whether it be a bunch of bananas, a packed meal, or simply just a smile and ‘thank you’ I will always be thankful to the patients who remind me why I chose to be in this profession in the first place and why I continue to do so.


About allen mallari

physician by profession, writing is his other passion. irregularly updates his blogs spread precariously over the web. he also has a penchant for the absurd, the sublime and everything in between. View all posts by allen mallari

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