25 October 2011

One glance

Four classmates and I were swapping stories at our table in a restaurant, unwinding after a major exam. One of us was still in his scrubs, and our waiter, overhearing our conversation, asked if we were medical students. When we responded in the affirmative, he told us that his mother recently had been diagnosed with a brain tumor and had to get it surgically removed. "It was so stressful waiting for the neurosurgeon to come into the waiting room and tell me and my dad how the procedure turned out," he told us.

"Finally, he came out, and his face was a total blank. Absolutely no expression. Couldn't read anything. I guess that's what he has to do, but those fifteen seconds when the surgeon walked over felt like an hour. With each step he took I kept feeling like something must have gone wrong, my mom must be dead.

"Then he pulled my father aside, and said that everything went great. I was so mad at him that I wanted to punch him, but I was so happy about what he said that I wanted to dance. I can't believe what that guy put me through."

Our once-boisterous table was silent.

Some weeks back, a professor had told us that practicing medicine is a privilege and a burden--you can restore life or take it away, and with one glance or a few words you can alter someone's life, for better or for worse. He told us that people will treat us differently and expect more of us, just because we are medical students and someday, physicians.

Our waiter just wanted to tell us his story. And without knowing it, he had reminded us that our professor was right.