Each day had brought improvements. The range of motion was returning. His strength was growing. His body balanced now with only the most minimal of assistive devices. What had once been disability had transformed to normal physiologic functioning.
In medicine we often talk in the most passive of manners. We say that the knee is improving, or the wound is closing. We talk as if healing is a mere act of God. A blessing that is bestowed on the weary from time to time in a somewhat whimsical manner.
And I am not a denier that randomness pervades our experience in hospitals and medical clinics. But I have been trying to be more cognizant of the role that human will plays in the rehabilitation of both body and soul. The force and strength, the sweat and tears, the physical act of becoming healthy.
So I said what was on my mind.
You know, I'm really proud of you!
Funny words coming from a middle aged doctor to his geriatric patient. But his face lit up, and I could see that he was thankful for the recognition of the difficult road he had travelled and barriers that still lay ahead. It wasn't condescending. It was a truthful moment that transcended the artificial barriers between doctor and patient. I was just an innocent bystander acknowledging the remarkable personal will it took to get better.
I feel both awe and pride, frequently, at the strength and endurance of those patients that fill my moment to moment existence.
From time to time, when appropriate, I try to let them know that.