Sunday, April 17, 2011


My first patient ever, an experience seared into my mind. It was early in my third year of medical school and our small group was in a general medical clinic where we were to see our patients, examine as necessary, and then report our findings and treatment plan to the medical resident or staff physician. After all these years the specifics of the clinic are rather vague, but two things are still very clear to me.

It was hot…really hot…early in September, and as students we were dressed per school requirements, shirt and tie plus the short white jacket which identified us as lowly students, recognized not only throughout the hospital but in the surrounding neighborhood. On this hot, humid day, in my shirt, tie, and jacket, I entered a small exam room (no air conditioning) and introduced myself to my patient, and elderly, rather wrinkled woman whose problem has been long gone from my memory. What is not gone is the absolute, awful, knock you down, odor of her breath, enhanced no doubt by the heat and closeness of our quarters. Unfortunately It was necessary for me to examine her throat, and when I approached her with tongue blade and flash light (trying hard to overcome basic physiology by only breathing out) she signaled me to pause for a moment while she removed a huge clove of garlic from her mouth which I swear was the size of a tangerine…Ok, maybe a walnut, but I can tell you this, even the most Italian of all Italians would have been done in by the dear ladies breath. As for me, I did not get near a piece of garlic for days…Ok, maybe hours.


cowango said...

Ok, Bill, this is too much. A clove of garlic? She was probably a witch. :P Of course not. I don't remember my first patient, per se, but I do remember some of my first patient care encounters in our local hospital as a candy striper (we were really glorified aids paid 50 cents an hours). I always felt sorry for the poor lowly med students dragging behind the cadre of super cool residents.

happy internist said...

my first patient finally interrupted me after an hour long assault that was my 'review of systems' (i was halfway through it) and asked if he could take a rest now, he was tired!