Context can be difficult. It seems natural and easy to view the world in a way that relates it to yourself, which can also lend itself to viewing clinical situations in that way. Perhaps this is a part of what can lead to patients being identified by their disease and not their name, and the creation of situations where referrals and prescriptions are made without ever being done or filled.
The medical, dental, physician assistant, and radiation therapy students all recently helped to put on a memorial service for the donors and their families who all participated in the Body Donation program that was a large part of our learning of human anatomy. The memorial service was well done, and many students contributed a musical talent or thoughtful words.
Prior to this occurring, there was no context. There were no names associated with our donors, there were no hints of what kind of people they were during their lives. It was like seeing a snapshot of them in relation only to ourselves and what we were doing.
The moment that the slideshow of family photos started, it was obvious that it is so important to realize that our interactions involve more than the snapshot that is immediately apparent. After so many wonderful photos showing happy people and their families in all stages of life, the donors’ family members had a chance to speak about their loved ones. Time and again, it was about how much they would be missed and how important it was to them to continue teaching and giving after their death.
I realize that I might not always know the full story of my patients, and that they might not even want to tell me their full story. But I hope I don’t forget to acknowledge that there is always more to be seen outside of the snapshot that I am getting.