Human Touch

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Dear Editor,

Dr. Galvin was spot on in addressing the need for treating hospitalized patients as real human beings rather than as abstractions.

As a surgical resident with large wards full of patients, I and my colleagues were lucky to remember what each patient had. Their names were less important than their illnesses. And who ever had the time to sit down and actually have a conversation with them? We ran from one calamity to the other and tried to learn as much as we could from each patient’s catastrophe. So much to learn, so little time.

Once in practice, though, I found that my relationships with my patients were what got me out of bed in the middle of the night if they needed me. These folks entrusted me with their lives, and I wanted to get to know them and their family members as well as possible. I always made time to sit down at the bedside or across from them in my office and talk about whatever was important to them. I found that I could best treat a person, not just an illness. In return, my patients gifted me with personal histories, family stories, bad jokes, and a type of personal intimacy that is a rare privilege.

I read once about the beneficial effect of human touch. I never failed to touch a patient’s hand, to dry their tears, or to give them some of me. I smiled at their triumphs and, at times, mourned their losses. But I never failed to treat them as I had once been treated.

I no longer actively practice, and I don’t miss the midnight phone calls, the hospital penny-pinchers, or the business of medicine, but God, how I miss my patients.

The takeaway here is that all of us, even us physicians, become patients at some point, and I learned long ago that treating a person with kindness, caring, and empathy goes a long way.

Burton Glass, MD FACS

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