Time for a Gentle Exam
There are no classes on how to deal with doctors. At least, there weren't any when I was starting out in nursing.
What follows is a true account of my relationship over many years, with one such physician and when he retired, we both finally figured out just how special we had been to each other all along the way.
Time for a Gentle Exam
Just over twenty years ago one icy February morning, a frightened young woman trudged ominously into the office of a local doctor, knowing absolutely that he would tell her exactly what she didn't want to hear. He was randomly chosen to deliver the untimely and expected news, as if not being acquainted with the physician could somehow minimize her fear and shame. She had essentially just begun her adult life in the real world and this was most certainly to be an event up to the challenge of the yet to be explored realm of difficult decision making. "Welcome to reality" was the annoying snippet of thought entering her mind upon crossing the threshold of the office.
The woman, a girl really, noticed the cheery décor less than the faces of the office staff twisted in disdain at her situation. Real or imagined, the embarrassment was an ever present stinging reminder of a choice not wisely made. She was certain the doctor would be, at best, the clinical confirmation of what she already knew. At worst, he would deliver a stern condescending opinion, as so many already had. She was poised to accept his wrath.
It never came. Instead, as she walked past an animated group of excited, happy mothers to be, the doctor greeted her warmly, with his hand extended toward hers. Sometime afterwards, he instructed her to relax and prepare for a "gentle exam." His exact words are as clear to her now as they were then. "Congratulations, you are roughly two months along." (Impossible, she thought, as there was only that one time...) Visions of her brand new career and soon to be ruined life tumbled into her unsettled head. Earlier that morning she had been irrationally angry at an anonymous lab tech who cheerfully confirmed the pregnancy results over the phone. And now this doctor was also blissfully unaware of her plight. Explosions of thoughts consumed her to such a degree that she had to ask the doctor to repeat what he had just said. "Dear, there is something extraordinary about this news," he offered quietly, his hand tenderly descending to her shoulder. Sad, angry, scared green eyes glared back in disbelief. He knew she was unmarried so she could not comprehend the depth of audacity of his comment. Softly he continued, "At least now you know you CAN have children." She exited the office as soon as she could and commenced her unplanned journey into the unknown, his words licking at her mind from time to time in the years to follow.
Eleven years later, the same woman accepted a staff position in the Obstetrics department at a local hospital. She was no longer as young, angry or sad. Coincidentally, or perhaps simply by fate, her premier patient was a young devastated girl who wouldn't speak to anyone for fear they just wouldn't understand. But this nurse DID understand and was able to offer much needed empathy at a crucial time. She recalled those words by the doctor a decade earlier and finally realized their significance, fully understanding why the young patient could not. Not yet...
Throughout her numerous years in maternity, the woman heard the doctor announce, "Time for a gentle exam" on countless occasions. Some patients might certainly have disagreed with that assessment, but such is the stuff of labor and delivery. Each time the nurse heard those words, she was briefly catapulted back in time and her own experience. The memories, however fleeting, were never far from the surface. When patients were in tears over losing children or discovering they were unable to conceive, the nurse saw the doctor in an entirely new light. Whenever she held her tiny son or shed tears over the perfection and joy in simply watching him sleep, she realized just how gentle her original exam had been. Sometimes people consider the physical aspect of an exam and forget that it is a special doctor indeed who is able to incorporate the emotional aspects as well. Perhaps, this nurse realized, that was the reason the doctor's patients were fiercely loyal to him and began sentences commenting how much they loved him.
Often she and the doctor were at odds over decisions involving patients. And there were times when stressful situations brought out the worst sides of both. Such disagreements were usually brief and quickly resolved. After all, no one can be perfect, and thankfully, even a doctor must be human. Interestingly, it was just that fact that made the doctor so well beloved by his patients. The nurse was struck by how kind and big of heart he was. It was always clear that he was extremely empathetic and sympathetic. Then too, he readily and excitedly discussed topics which were of interest to her, such as his varied travels and her love of anything having to do with Pitcairn Island. That alone intrigued her, as probably only the two of them had ever heard of the place. If she professed an interest, he sought out an article or book and brought it in for her to peruse. She never had to ask him to do so. A ham radio enthusiast, the doctor was fond of regaling everyone with tales of who he had contacted. Many were polite listeners but this nurse eagerly awaited his stories. Once, upon learning that her son coveted an interest in ham radio and without being asked, he brought in an older model of one and gave it to her, with instructions that the boy should contact him with any questions, as if his schedule were in some way flexible. The woman would not forget that he remembered every nurse genuinely and generously every Christmas, and was the only doctor to lavish such attention and appreciation upon them. It was such a simple but thoughtful thing to do. He never forgot to say thank you; something so important when others rarely did.
Flash to the present. The woman in question is married, with four children. The oldest, who is twenty two and on the Deans list in college, was the unexpected baby the doctor said would be an amazing reminder of her future. He was correct a thousand fold. Ironically, and possibly prophetically, since all the nurses can attest to the doctor's not so alleged psychic ability, the woman was told she was infertile, and was then sad for the opposite reason of her initial office visit with the doctor all those years before. At that moment she TRULY understood the wisdom for the comment given by the doctor to the shell shocked young girl that day. She had to smile and marvel at his wisdom.
These days, that not so young woman has three young children under the age of seven. She has few free moments and an ongoing respect and admiration for the doctor who kept the importance of life and wonder of birth alive in her mind and heart both personally and professionally throughout the years. Upon his retirement he will be sorely missed. And, the other nurses tell me, and I concur, so will his early morning check in phone calls. The doctor made life interesting in many respects and the maternity department will not ever be the same without him. He is wished only laughter, love and good health from all his nurses, colleagues, patients, staff and the community as well.
Dr. F., THIS woman and nurse says thank you so much for the words you compassionately delivered all those years back, and I assure you I held them snug in my heart and mind all along. Please know that I won't ever forget the countless kindnesses you offered along my journey to the present. It was a bumpy ride, but well worth the trip. Lastly and most importantly, thank you, most sincerely, for my own "gentle exam."
By..Martha RN:redpinkheLast edit by Joe V on Feb 27, '08
mother/babyRN has '27' year(s) of experience and specializes in 'cardiac, diabetes, OB/GYN'. From 'East Coast'; 57 Years Old; Joined Feb '02; Posts: 1,959; Likes: 402.
Must Read Topics0Sep 2, '08 by bubbabubbawhat a beautiful story! There must be lots of physicians who were like this out there and great that you told the story of this one. Often times we read about the rude snits who think they are God-like--If this guy was ever sick, I bet he got the best nursing care EVER!
BUBBABUBBA in Alabama