I had my last session with my preceptor on Wednesday afternoon.
Its been an incredible privilege to learn from the ob/gyn preceptor I had as an MS1 and the infectious disease specialist I’ve had over the last few months. I remember waiting outside patient rooms hopelessly trying to memorize a list of questions to ask in serial order as a naive MS1 in the first few months of medical school. When the patient responded, I was more preoccupied with remembering the next question rather than focusing on what they were saying.
Nearly eighteen months later, things are very different. Though I still have a repertoire of “medical questions”, I eagerly anticipate getting to know the background of each patient to put in the context of his or her ailment. I was also given the opportunity of having most of my preceptorships at the Veterans Affairs (VA) hospital, and in light of Veteran’s Day yesterday, I’d like to share my thoughts regarding this extraordinary experience.
It’s remarkable how much I’ve learned about the human condition just by talking to these heroic figures about non-medical topics: training camp, life in the military, old war stories, how they met their spouses, and the accomplishments of their grandchildren all come to mind. 🙂
Honestly, all the clips we see on national news regarding our war on terrorism are completely meaningless and highly inaccurate until actually talking to an Iraqi war veteran and listening to his account of how well prepared and equipped his fleet was. Or listening to a World War II veteran laugh about his air force buddies writing “To Adolf, With Love” on all the bombs in their B-24. These men and women have seen so much of life, and their wisdom is duly noted. It’s just amazing how much THEY have taught ME without even knowing it. 🙂
But at the same time, these patients are facing tough circumstances. Many of their sons and daughters have long forgotten about them. Their only pride and joy is talking about the “good ‘ol days” to anyone that is willing to listen. I admire how, in spite of their conditions (many of which are terminal), they have such a bright outlook on life. They never ask for acknowledgement of their services. They never ridicule the current generation for being ungrateful. They just want to be happy.
I remember one particular preceptor session I had earlier this year at the VA hospital. A veteran had just received a knee replacement the day before, but instead of recuperating with bed rest, he insisted that he be with his wife (my patient) as she discussed her symptoms. This couple, well into their 60s, shared a bond unlike any other I had ever seen at that point. The physicians and nurses all knew them. They would tease me just to see how gullible I was. Their charisma and vibrant sense of humor just lit up the entire unit… a refreshing reminder of happiness emerging from the bounds of illness. 🙂
So remember, we live in a free country because of a veteran. Or two. Or three. Or rather, a countless number of individuals who have selflessly given significant portions of their career (and often, their lives) to protect our freedom. Their concrete valor trumps any constituent-pleasing garbage that politicians can manufacture and should not only be remembered on Veteran’s Day but every single day as we exercise our rights as American citizens.
Wow! I can only hope to have such great experiences with my patients. Everyone should take some time out to thank a current or past veteran for their service, not only on Veteran’s Day.