Tuesday, December 20, 2011


I broke my stethoscope the other day. Or actually, the stethoscope broke, it really wasn’t my fault. A couple of weeks ago I noticed that the tubing was beginning to tear. As I am wont to do, I ignored the situation and tried to tape it up. Of course my temporary solution only worked for a short while. After multiple tapings, it finally broke. Imagine my embarrassment as I went to put the ear piece in my ears and it split in half, right in front of a patient. There I was wide eyed with half the stethoscope in one ear and the other ear piece dangling disconnected in my hand. As you can imagine it was quite a site.

So I threw my stethoscope in the garbage and borrowed a loner from a colleague. I ordered a new one and waited for it to come in the mail. A few weeks later I tried out my new model and it didn’t feel the same; maybe it was the way it fit in my ears, maybe the length of the tubing. Who knows? It just didn’t feel right. And then I started to think.

I threw out my stethoscope! The same stethoscope I bought with such pride on my first day of medical school. The stethoscope that had literally touched every single patient I had seen throughout my medical career (it had never broken before). And like an idiot I just tossed it aside. I didn't perform any ceremonies, no thank yous for a job well done, no tender thoughts of all we had been through together.

Sure my new stethoscope will likely be just as good. Hell, it probably will function better. But I guess that’s not the point. The point is that somehow down the line I lost my loyalty. I lost my respect for a relationship forged by closeness, shared experience, and yes years of time spent together.

I know what you’re saying:

it’s a stethoscope-an inanimate object!

But maybe there is some importance here we’re missing. Maybe our health care system is taking a turn for the worse. Maybe we are losing our loyalty in other places. Hospitals and doctors are becoming less friendly. Staff turnover is rampant and you no longer recognize the faces when you enter your doctor’s office. Physicians are moving, changing locations, or even swapping careers.

I got a letter from a patient the other day. We had been through so much together. She battled depression and a divorce. She survived a horrendous cancer and was still dealing with her diabetes. We knew each other for years.

I guess I didn’t take it personally that she was leaving. Her health insurance changed and I was no longer on her plan.

But as the tears well up in my eyes I can’t seem to stop thinking about that damn stethoscope.

How could I have just thrown it away?

1 comment:

tracy said...

i understand the connection to an inatimate object that has served you faithfully and the feeling of wanting to keep it forever, even if it is not useful any more.

Did you rescue your old stehescope? i hope so.