You’re checking the blood pressure of a Syrian Refugee. It’s a community health fair, she’s only been here a couple of weeks. You find it high and ask her if she has hypertension and she says yes, but she hasn’t had access to medication in months. You tell her to hold back on the salt until she can get some meds. It’ll help a little. She responds it’s not the salt that is causing her the hypertension. It’s the nightmares. They won’t end. Even when she closes her eyes. They won’t end.
You’re taking history from a Latina woman admitted to the ER. She has a long history of hospital visits in the past week that you’re trying to get straight so you can find out what led to today. You’re having a congenial conversation when she takes her hand, puts it on your arm, looks you in the eyes and tells you she’s going to tell you something she hasn’t told anyone, not even the attending. The reason why she came to this hospital, a hospital that’s nearly an hour away from her home, why she left the one she was in last, was because someone over there accused her of being an illegal alien. She has been a US citizen for decades. She thanks you for treating her like she’s human.
You’re at a community clinic and a daughter is concerned about her diabetic mother. Blood pressure readings tell you that right now she should be in the hospital, it’s a hypertensive urgency, but she’s sitting fine, looking fine, talking in a tongue you can’t understand fine. It’s the end of your shift but you stay back to help. Do a manual check, using your own cuff, your own stethoscope. The daughter asks you to teach her so you sit her down and hand her your tools. Hear the beat there, see the reading here? She tells you that back home she used to be a nurse, but since she moved she hasn’t practiced in years. She checks her mother’s pressure, thanks you, and gives you a hug. I have only known you today, she says, but you are like a daughter to me.
You’re sitting home on a Sunday night, have a candle lit to ease the anxiety, staring at notes taking up all the space on your L-shaped desk. Right now you’re thinking really small. You’re considering physiology and pathology, sometimes your mind wanders to philosophy and policy. You have forgotten that all this, all this would be nothing if it weren’t the stories you have experienced with real people. Real humans. How they felt comfortable enough to open up and share with you, to let you in, to let them in. So your perspective shifts-
You’re sitting home on a Sunday night, have a candle lit illuminating memory by memory the experiences that motivate you, staring at notes that will one day aid you in helping, maybe saving, a life.
And that’s perspective.