There are days when I get caught up in my day-to-day service activities — from calling patients to tracking new hospital admittances to enrolling patients in insurance. I remember at the beginning of my service term when I thought this was the most important thing that I needed to be doing, but nine months later, I realize how my role is much bigger than this. And it only takes a knock on the door of my office to bring me back to that realization.
The knock belongs to one of the first patients I ever met, and I can already see his furrowed brow and deep frown through the glass slit, indicating he has some bad news to share. I let him in, and the minute he is comfortably sitting in front of my desk, he launches into a story of the death of both his brother-in-law and his mother-in-law. As he fervently talks, I learn that his brother-in-law suddenly fainted in the middle of dinner, injured his head, and passed away in the hospital after a few days, finally succumbing to his head wound. In the two days following his death, my patient’s mother-in-law was caught in a house fire and passed away after not finding an escape. Now he has multiple funerals to plan, and he is also working to prevent realtors from taking advantage of the situation and stealing his mother-in-law’s old property. On top of this, his own health is deteriorating, and he cannot find the time to attend his appointments.
At the conclusion of his story, he’s holding back tears, and I’m speechless. After a few moments of silence, I finally find the words to express how sorry I am he is going through of all this, and I ask what I can do to help him. Almost instantly, he states, “I just wanted to talk to you. I know that you can’t make anything better, but it’s important for me that you know what’s happening in my life.” I’m back to speechless, but I’m also incredibly touched that he values our relationship to this extent. We talk for a little more about how the rest of his family is doing and about prioritizing his appointments so he can take care of his most urgent health needs and not be overwhelmed.
After we say goodbye, I reflect on the entire conversation and how much it reminds me that while I help these patients gain easier access to health care, it’s not the only thing they expect of me; they trust me, and because of that, they make me a part of their lives and want to share all of their personal information with me. And this sharing of information happens all the time. I’ve run into patients while on public transport who want to update me about the birth of their new grandchild. I’ve run into patients on the walk to service, and they stop me to chat about how they started a new diet and how good they feel. I’ve even run into patients at special events in the city, and they rush up to me just to ask how I’m doing and if I’m enjoying my weekend. It’s in these moments I truly appreciate the opportunities our roles as National Health Corps members give us and understand how much we become a part of the communities we serve. Coming into this year, I never expected for this to happen, but now I can’t imagine not having these relationships and not being this close to my patients.