Pick up That Phone
I had a dream a while back. I don't remember all that much about it; it was something about handling a difficult patient, or doing something I didn't want to do but knew I should. Something like that. One of the characters in the dream was a man I'll call Dr. M, the associate director of my residency program. I woke up remembering yet again how much he meant to me.
I've been out of residency for more than 15 years now, solidly ensconced in practice. When I have questions about a diagnosis or treatment, I have a rolodex of referral specialists who have been great about answering me over the years. I know who's willing to answer general questions and which ones will hem and haw and insist on seeing the patient (so guess who I prefer to call) but I've pretty much moved past my residency faculty as a clinical resource.
But I still find them with me every day, especially Dr. M. His is the voice in my ear when I see what I'm sure is HSV but really ought to be cultured, just so the patient can be absolutely certain. I remember squinting at a sheep's blood agar plate trying to discern whether the colony of strep had a ring of beta-hemolysis and hearing his voice behind me saying, "Positive as the day is long, Dr. D; positive as the day is long." When a patient is being unreasonable, his voice in my head is the one pointing out that the patient is probably scared, worried about what I might tell him, so his belligerance isn't really directed at me. Dr. M was my ultimate model of a family physician, and I still find myself regularly thinking "What would Dr. M do in this situation?"
He's not dead. Last I heard he's the Director at another program, so I checked online and sure enough he's still there. I copied the phone number down, and early the next morning, right before I began seeing patients, I picked up the phone.
His voice was as happy and excited as I remembered. No one was ever as excited about Family Practice Service rounds every morning as Dr. M was. He asked about my kids and I about his. Then I told him why I was calling, saying something like this:
"I just wanted to let you know what an important part of my life you were -- and are. More days than not I think about what you taught me -- not just the clinical minutiae of family practice, but what it means to really be a family doctor. I find myself modelling what I do, what I say and how I say it after you. I just wanted you to know that. And I wanted to thank you."What about you? If there's a Dr. M in your past whose voice still echoes in your head, why not just pick up the phone and make his or her day.