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The Patients Who Inspire Us: A Season of Gratitude

Op-Med is a collection of original articles contributed by Doximity members.

This season of thanks, we asked Doximity Fellows to tell us what they were thankful for, in roughly 100 words. We’ve split their responses into two parts; the first part is about patients they are grateful for. Part two will be about the reverse (gratitude our writers have received from patients) — look out for that toward the end of November!

A Gentle Touch

I was hospitalized after having an emergency craniotomy in 2011. It was a really difficult time for my family and I. Only a portion of my hair was buzzed for the surgery, but the other majority of my long dark brown wavy hair was dirty and tangled. The nursing assistant on the unit offered to help me and she set up a shower chair in the bathroom and gave me a warm towel. The gentle shampooing, rinse, and towel dry she gave may have only taken a short time, but it changed my entire day. I felt so clean and despite my craniotomy, with my hair washed and dried I actually felt pretty. The good feeling carried into more energy for the planned speech, physical, and occupational therapies I had that day. I'll always be grateful for the gentle kindness that the nursing assistant gave me that day. 

Natalie Radino, NP, Adult Care

The Gift of Humanity

You asked me how I was, despite the fact that I kept you waiting. Not a hint of impatience peered behind that ready smile of yours as you swore you had no idea how you ended up here. And yet here we were. Your daughter rolled her eyes as you sheepishly admitted perhaps you hadn’t taken your medications exactly like your doctor said. But we're all human right? With each day, I met more of your clan — and one day it was our time to bid farewell. Your daughter brought me an orchid as a thank you for our time together — which I still have in my home. The petals have since fallen but I still proudly display the remnants of our cherished memories. Thank you for seeing me as a human. Sincerely, your Doctor.

Helen Chen, MD, Geriatrics

The Healing Power of Teamwork

It took months of hard work, tears, and coaching to get to this point. At our first visit you asked, “You really think I could get better?” Tears of joy stream down your cheeks at the thought of returning to soccer. Your last game years ago, before the ankle sprain turned into chronic pain. We worked together. You progressed from a wheelchair to a walker, and then stood on your own two feet! In your embrace, tears threaten to leave my eyes at my gratitude for your trust in me. 

Elisha Peterson, MD, Anesthesiology  

The Resiliency of the Human Spirit   

This was his third admission in the last few months; diabetic, bilateral below-knee amputations, end-stage renal-disease with chronic pain. And yet, he smiled. Even when his lab values deteriorated, his spirits somehow strengthened. Every morning he’d say: “I’m just going to try and do a bit more than I did yesterday.” And somehow, within 48 hours, with close to no medical interventions, it almost felt like his spirit willed his lab values into normalcy. I learned from him that, even when it’s up against a wall, the human spirit can transcend all boundaries. Our physical abilities may one day become limited, but that need not limit our outlook and desire to continue getting the most out of life. 

Prerak Juthani, MD, Resident 

The Art and Science of Nursing

I’ve had the privilege to practice nursing as a part of the Veterans Health Administration. First as a nurse assistant, then a registered nurse, and finally an APP. My academic endeavors competently prepared me to practice the science of nursing, but it was our veterans who helped me understand the art. I am forever grateful to the soldiers who taught me that the art of nursing is deeply rooted in a desire to go above and beyond for someone else.

Leigh Montejo, NP, Family Medicine

A Good Joke

It had been a quiet Sunday afternoon until my phone rang. An 88-year-old man had arrived in the ER in shock and bright yellow. Groan. CT showed that the cause of his troubles was a gallstone lodged in his bile duct. He was on pressors and I was on biliary call as a favor for someone else. Grumble. I hadn’t done an ERCP on a Sunday for months. And it was always painful putting the team together — but it had to be done. I went to work sour, fearing the worst. Then I met the man. Despite a blood pressure of 85/50 on pressors, he smiled and told me a joke! “Hey Doc, did you hear about the guy whose whole left side was cut off? He's all right now.” I smiled back. Being here for him was truly all right. 

Rosario Ligresti, MD, Gastroenterology 

Flourishing Seeds

We puzzled over jigsaws, wrote poetry together, and met each other’s families. I was in my 20s and Francey in her 70s — she refused to reveal her real age. We met through a college program: students partnered up with Alzheimer’s patients. Francey inspired me to study medicine after graduation. We kept in touch through her family. They gave their love freely: reminding Francey how much I missed her, weekly calls, and poetry book gifts. When Francey passed from COVID-19, a deep pit grew in my stomach. I didn’t realize it then, but another seed flourished — a family who continues to check in and send heart emojis.

Ellen Zhang, MD, Internal Medicine

Compassionate Encouragement

When I first met Mrs. A, she kept answering my questions in Hindi, a language in which I had basic proficiency but had not used recently. As I stumbled through the words riddled with mistakes, she gave me the biggest smile and encouraged me to keep going, telling me what a good job I was doing. In that moment, I felt flustered — yet her smile and words of encouragement in a situation where I was the vulnerable one made me grateful for her compassion.

Shaima Khandaker, MD, Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation

The Gift of Prayer

When I visited you, you took my hand and thanked me. I helped your baby nurse. Next was a family meeting. Then came the cream-colored papers. I began to pray for you, your baby, your family, and for me. Awkwardly at first. If there were a god, why would they listen to me? Now I pray nightly. You were thankful to me and now you are suing me. You are now suing me, and I am thankful to you. For the gift of prayer, which has come mid-life, mid-career. Like they say, life is complicated.

Jennifer Boyle, MD, Obstetrics & Gynecology

The Unknowns of the Mind

She sat across from me, smiling and giggling as we caught eyes. Her family explained that she typically became giddy when she saw someone that reminded her of her past. Yet, due to her Alzheimer’s disease, she could not outline who. She struggled when asked, “What is your name?” Interestingly, her family next asked, “What did your mother used to call you?” Instantly, the patient remembered. This exemplifies the incredibly painful, yet fascinating moments I get to share with my patients. I feel honored to explore the unknowns of the mind, and more importantly, support my patients and their families during the most difficult moments as well. 

Logan Noone, DO, Psychiatry Resident

A Sense of Humor

We had just spent several tense moments waiting for the patient to wake up after a routine anorectal surgery and some coughing during extubation. As he was being wheeled out of the OR, my patient propped himself up on the stretcher and asked, “Doc, will I play the piano again?” First, there was stunned silence. Then the entire OR erupted into laughter. I was grateful for patients who had a sense of humor even though I operate in their most intimate of spaces. As I caught up to the stretcher, he said, “I’ve always wanted to say that!” And I laughed, “I didn’t do anything to your hands, so unless you use your butt to play the piano…”

Carmen Fong, MD, Colon & Rectal Surgery

Patients Beyond the Illness 

As time passes, the specifics of patient cases can fade from my memory. 

Yet, I always remember the quirks that make them uniquely human. I remember their man buns. Their love for computers. I remember their rainbow-colored socks. The ginger coils that seemingly defy gravity. I remember the aroma of truffle fries and pizza emanating from their hospital room, always their room. Their fondness for fisherman’s platters and purple dresses. I cherish their humanity. What a privilege it is to care for children. To remember them as more than patients. More than illness.  

Tasia Isbell, MD, Pediatrics

The Clinicians Who Help Us Through

“His breathing is getting worse, I’m calling an ambulance,” my wife texts me at 2 a.m. regarding our son. An intern on call, I am awake and treating an ankle fracture. While waiting on post-reduction films, my wife sends a video of my son with corticosteroid zoomies. Both family members are sleeping when I get home. I crawl into bed with them. To the clinicians who have treated or will treat my family so I can focus on taking care of others — thank you!

Kyle Walker, MD, Orthopaedic Surgery 

What, or who, are you thankful for this season? Share in the comments!

Illustration by April Brust

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