Lessons from a Psych Patient

Today I had the esteemed privilege of interviewing a veteran in the psych clinic. I also had the rare experience of witnessing this prototypic American warrior — an individual trained to show no fear, experience no pain, and survive at all costs — break down and bawl uncontrollably at the thought of his son’s suicide one year ago. Something about his life experience and service to our country made me, for better or worse, empathize with him beyond the ordinary.

They say that as healthcare professionals, you learn a tremendous amount from your patients. In the conversation which ensued after the psychiatric interview, we discussed everything from Obama’s “inadequacies” to computers to the future of healthcare while my attending finished seeing her patient. He provided such incredible wisdom and insight that made me wish I could spend all day just listening to whatever he had to say.

The Navy SEAL Insignia

One thing which struck me in particular was his view on prejudice. The patient’s father, a military man himself, had unfortunately lost his vision from a wartime injury. As a young man, my patient asked his blind father about the topic of prejudice. In his infinite wisdom, the father replied:

“Son, if you want to know how much one’s skin color matters, just close your eyes and view the world from my perspective. One’s appearance becomes irrelevant to the content of his or her tongue and soul. It doesn’t matter if they’re black or white… gay or lesbian — remember that.”

I’ll admit… I actually typed that in my H&P note with the intention of posting it in this blog post. Maybe I was just caught up in the moment, but I dwelled on this sentiment for quite some time. This family really understood what equality is in its purest sense. My patient faced some of the most difficult training imaginable, yet he spoke with no regret nor desire for resorting to physical aggression to settle arguments. Instead, he sought peace and comfort for those around him… placing complete strangers above him. *Sighs*, it was like interviewing the perfect role model.

I won’t go into his specific situation (HIPAA), but let’s just say I learned more in that 40 minute session about the human condition than, well, I honestly can’t remember when I last had such a refreshing conversation.

Patients will never seize to amaze you… as long as you listen. 🙂

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