Lessons from the clinic

by Lorien E. Menhennett

Every time I volunteer at the free clinic where I work as a Spanish medical translator, I come away with something. (So yes, volunteering is important – it’s not just something to put on your resume or med school application.) This past Thursday was no different. Two patients in particular stood out to me.

One was a very sweet middle-aged man, probably in his 50s, who was being treated for diabetes, high cholesterol, and thyroid problems (among other things). On the surface, it looked like he was incompliant with his meds – his cholesterol was still high, his A1C was still high, and in spite of 200 mcg of synthroid, his thyroid was still screwy. But as the nurse practitioner and I got further into the appointment, we came to the realization that it wasn’t that he was purposely avoiding taking the medications as intended – he probably couldn’t read. So while we did the normal routine – wrote out a new medication card, with all of the instructions written out as to which medication to take when, whether with food, etc. (I wrote them out in Spanish, of course) – we also went over the instructions with him verbally, multiple times, and had him repeat the instructions back to make sure that he understood everything. It reminded me that you really have to pay attention to the nuances of a patient visit, and treat the patient individually, because each person’s situation is so different. That seems obvious, of course. But when you’re rushing and trying to see X number of patients in a day, that can get lost. But really, it can’t – because that’s why I want to be a doctor.

The second patient who really made an impression on me was a younger woman, about my age. She had been dealing with depression for some time. The physician asked how her depression was, and how she had been doing on her Lexapro. Turns out that she had made some significant life changes on her own – had been attending therapy at the clinic and exercising regularly – and had been able to control her depression without the medication. You could tell she meant it, too. She smiled confidently as she talked about how things were going. Not a hint of the depression that had plagued her before. The young physician beamed as well. Not because he had come up with some fantastic and fancy drug cocktail for the patient, but because she had come up with her own way of coping with her situation, with his encouragement and help. It’s not always about prescribing medications or procedures, but about working with patients to find what works for them. And when you see that progress, that woman’s smile and her genuine ability to cope with her life situation, what a joy that is. That’s how I felt, at least, and I was just the translator, the observer. I can’t wait to be one of the participants in the whole process.