The Toolbox
by Rory Ratzlaff


As I was walking into the room, I didn't know what awaited me. I didn't know the patient. I didn't know her story:  who she was, where she was from, how she got there. As I walked along the hallway, I could only think of how a 3rd year medical student was going to help someone who is DNR, weighed her age and who hadn't been out of bed for weeks. Was it going to be suggesting this medication? Ordering this test? Or correctly identifying her diagnosis? I was determined to help, shine, and be the best medical student I could be, like we all want to be. Except, that didn't happen in the way I expected.

As I first saw her: those sunken cheeks, prominent bones, and frail body, I raised my hand to shake hers. She could barely raise her own. Touching her cold, bluish fingertips, neither of us had any idea the impact, the influence, and the positivity we would have on each other the next few weeks.

We introduced ourselves and started to talk, trying to find common ground. It was poker and Elvis. We played five hands of 5-card draw and listened to Elvis's Greatest Hits that day. And we talked about whatever came to our minds. I lost all five hands by the way. By this time, my day had ended and I was dismissed. She wasn't.

The next few days we continued to play cards, listened to Elvis, The Beach Boys, and Chris Young. I won a few hands and I think we were even at that point. We continued to talk about her family, my family, where we both were from and how we got to where we were. She could barely sit in her wheelchair for 10 minutes because of the pain. She didn't want to feel pain anymore and wanted to give up on the day and herself. I didn't. I didn't want to give up on her

Over the next few weeks, I saw her progress from sitting up in her wheelchair for 15, 30, to 45 minutes. I saw her sit on the edge of the bed, stand with assistance, and walk to the bedside commode. I saw her walk 10, 15, 30, 75 feet. There were days we progressed and days we fell behind. There were days where she didn't want to try anymore and wanted to give up, but we didn't let that happen.

During our time together, we shared a lot of smiles, laughter, and a few tears. We learned a lot from each other. After shaking her warm, pink fingertips one more time, I knew we had come a long way. Together, we discovered the power of healing, not only of the body but also of the mind, and with this discovery, her will to live had returned.

I, myself had come a long way as well. I learned that medicine is far from taking a history and physical, farther from prescribing medications, and perhaps farthest from a diagnosis. Medicine is looking at the person as a human and not as just another patient. Medicine encompasses tools each physician has within them, along with the ability to incorporate them into each patient encounter. The ability to form connections with people is beyond anything any medication can do, vaccine can prevent, or test can tell you. The ability to show compassion, empathy, and humanism to everyone is of utmost importance when forming relationships. These are tools that can't be by obtained by reading a book or sitting in lecture. They are acquired by spending time with patients, actively listening to their concerns, needs, and wants, and about their lives. The importance of a strong patient-physician relationship had never been clearer than it was following my experience.


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