Monday, May 28, 2012

The Roles We Play

The last time Charlie's grandmother called before a visit, it was to let me know that he had a "special" friend.  She might not of said it directly, but I knew it was time to have a talk about the birds and the bees, STD's, and birth control.  He may have been in his mid thirties, but he functioned like a teenager. 

Charlie never really knew his parents.  His father jumped ship when his mental shortcomings began to manifest during elementary school.  A short time later his mother died from pneumonia, and he moved in with his grandparents.  There were a few years of independent living in an apartment complex, but he returned to help around the house when his grandfather passed away.

Years ago, Charlie was labeled as "slow" before we had the nomenclature for the complex range of mentally challenging diseases that exists today.  An accordingly, anyone who spent a few minutes talking to him could tell that something was different.  A longer conversation, however, would reveal that a thinking, feeling person was present behind the facade that he had been labeled with.  He held a job at the local grocery store for more than a decade, and was even named employee of the year a few times.  He was fiercely protective of his grandmother and was a loyal friend.

Taking care of Charlie was a pleasure.  He came to see me regularly and followed directions when given.  He had a plethora of minor problems which we dealt with on an ongoing basis.  It was the kind of visit I looked forward to.

Charlie entered the exam room in a button down shirt and blushed as he handed me the neck tie.  His grandmother's vision had become to poor to help him do such things anymore.  I stood a few inches behind him as we stared into the mirror.  I took his hands in mine and gently guided him through the motions.  By the end of the fifteen minute appointment, he could tie it by himself.  I made him promise to take pictures and bring them to the next visit.

As a physician, I fulfill many roles for my patients.  To some, I am like a son doting over his parent's every ache or pain.  To others, I am a comrade who lends an ear during difficult times. 

And occasionally, momentarily, I get to fill the space of a father who left long ago.

Being the product of a single parent family, it's a role I particular cherish. 


H.N. said...

Dr. Grumet,

It has been a pleasure and an inspiration to read your blog-posts ever since I discovered it recently. It seems like you pursue medicine not only to help people, but also it is therapeutic...Me too...Although, I still have a long way to go.

Thanks for sharing!

I'm a big fan.

LIsa Fields said...

Dr. Grumet,

Sometimes the little things turn out to be the big things. So often I hear stories about the frustrations so many physicians feel only being able to spend a few minutes with each patient.

I had a friend who is an emergency medicine physician, is on faculty within the physician assistant program, his wife is also a physician and when their children were young, Mark dedicated at least one hour a week to a young boy who was a member of Big Brothers and Sisters program. It probably will not come as a surprise that Mark helped this young man place his sports aside to put his emphasis on his academics. I have not seen my friends for a few years but the last time I spoke to Mark his "little brother" had just graduated from college. His Grandmother shared with tears in her eyes she knew Mark helped her dream for her Grandson had come true.

I'm certain Charlie is able to battle for his independence because he knows he can depend on you. Thanks for all you do