I’m currently on my Family Medicine rotation, and one of the perks of Family Med is that I get to interact with twenty or more patients everyday, all with different stories. One of my preceptors, whom I admire a great deal, makes it a point to engage the patient with regards to his/her background and social environment. This is emphasized to the point that when presenting the patient to him, it’s not uncommon for him to ask me about what the patient does for a living or if he or she is married, or if they have children, etc. Thus, I have made it a habit to incorporate social context into my patient interview.
Earlier this week, I met a gentleman who made an appointment to establish care with my preceptor. While obtaining the standard medical history, him and I engaged in off subject talks about travels and origins. He was Jordanian and much older than me. Because of my name, he was curious as to what my background was. So he asked, “What’s your ethnicity?” and before I could answer he says, “By the way, I’m Catholic.” I wasn’t sure what to make of this exchange…was an invisible line being drawn between us, or if was it simply something he felt needed to be clarified? Regardless, him and I shared stories about our families, and I spoke about the time I spent in his homeland. Apparently, I had an uncanny resemblance to one of his nephews. By the end of my interview, we connected on a very human level, and he handed me a telephone number, inviting our wives to contact each other so that we may get together some time. Differences that might have impeded upon the provider-patient relationship in the past, did not apply in our case. I couldn’t help but wonder if the exchange we had in our exam room was a microcosm of the changes that were occurring throughout the Middle East. Where dignity, and mutual respect are recognized as rights, not to be limited to those of the same religion or ethnicity, but to be shared by those of the same race, the human race.
I have been absent from this blog for over a month now. While I am in the busiest year of medical school, I must admit that this is not the reason for my absence. To be completely honest, I’ve found it difficult to focus in school as much as I’m used to, let alone to contribute something thoughtful to the student blog. That’s because on January 25th, Egyptians took to the streets and organized a non-violent protest that lasted 18 days, until (former) President Hosni Mubarak stepped down. Those 18 days captivated my heart and mind, like it did to many others. In 2007-2008, I became a resident of Cairo and I would spend the next nine months conducting research as a Fulbright student, and more importantly immersing myself into Egyptian culture. I look fondly on those times, and it was surreal seeing the streets I used to roam in downtown Cairo filled with the masses.
My research there revolved around attempting to assess the healthcare status of refugees living in the Greater Cairo area. However, shortly after getting into the thick of things, I found that my original project was a foolish endeavor. Why? Because the healthcare status of an average Egyptian was nearly nonexistent. If locals were unable to tap into the healthcare system with any regularity, what hope did refugees have? My son has Egyptian blood running through his veins and I wonder what the future Egypt holds for him when he visits. I look forward to the day that I can share my experience of Egypt under the Mubarak regime with Sufyan, and he will only think of it as a history lesson.