As a doctor I’m aware that I often see kids when they aren’t at their best. Even if they aren’t sick and are in my office for a well-check they often are scared or shy or just not all that excited to be there. It’s my world, not theirs.
This week I was taking care of a patient in the hospital who I’ve known for many years. He is now 17 years old and has serious chronic medical issues. When I write my initial note about him in his chart instead of summing up all his medical history (which is lengthy) I just write “patient well-known to me”. This shows that I know him and didn’t really need to do a full history since I know it already.
Typically when I see him he is very sick as his Mom is used to caring for him at home until he absolutely has to be in the hospital. In addition I usually make my rounds early in the morning so when I see him he is in bed, wearing a hospital gown, and sleepy.
This week his Mom brought in a poster she had made and put it up in his room. It was covered in photos of him over the past year. Playing basketball. Dressed up for Halloween. With friends at school. And in each and every one of the photos he has a huge toothy grin on his face and eyes full of joy.
I realized that I’d never pictured him doing any of those things. And I realized that in fact he wasn’t so “well-known to me” after all. I know his medical history but I don’t really know him. I told his Mom how glad I was she brought the photos in because now I feel like I do know him a little bit better.
And now when I think of him it’s not lying in a bed hooked up to an IV but with a basketball in his hand and a smile on his face.