The silver lining
On a chilly January morning earlier this year, I began my last semester of pharmacy school. Entering the ambulatory care clinic, I was simultaneously nervous and excited. I had never experienced a clinic that involved a team-based practice of medicine serving a geriatric population, especially one including a pharmacist. From the first day, I realized that this rotation would be quite a unique and challenging experience.
A month prior to the rotation, I had undergone surgery and the unexpected recovery length left me in a downtrodden mood. Every day I struggled against pain and discomfort, juggled frequent appointments between several physicians, and accepted my recovery would be an arduously long process. Thankfully, I could rely on my wonderful family members and nurses to assist with the daily bandage changings and treatments. Yet I still dreaded waking up to the harsh reality of my wound.
But a silver lining appeared each morning at the ambulatory care site. Every time I stepped through those clinic doors, my mindset shifted. I focused on the needs of the clinic’s numerous patients, and during the hours of engaging dialogue, I forgot my own struggles and hardships. I worked my hardest to help relieve the suffering of others, which paradoxically worked as a treatment to heal my own suffering.
Opening a new book
The daily tasks of researching medical records and charts, dissecting profiles, and cross-examining medications blended into a symphony of knowledge. Together with my partner and preceptor, we conducted this symphony into sessions of patient consultation, and we made sure that each patient received the most appropriate pharmacotherapy in accordance with the physicians’ plans.
However, the patient dialogues did not end with discussing medications and therapies. Instead they continued into beautiful stories about the lives of the extraordinary people who entered the clinic’s halls. I met teachers, nurses, and artists. Skiers, bakers, and poets. Mothers, fathers, husbands, and wives. With every room I entered, I opened a new book divulging a beautiful glimpse into a patient’s life. These conversations occurred between the medical examinations and therapeutic modifications. Talking and sharing eased the anxiety and tensions felt by the patients as they waited for their physicians. From exchanging recipes to discussing books to hearing about how the world has changed, the patients enriched my life. I realized that not only was I helping the patients, but they were also helping me.
Of course, not all conversations were uplifting; after all, many patients were sick and suffered through terrible hardships. But they confided in us at the clinic and we listened with open ears, arms, and hearts. Our team worked together as hard and as best we could to help every patient leave each appointment feeling a little better. I am beyond fortunate to have experienced the clinic’s incredible teamwork.
My grandfather’s spirit
Coincidentally, the timing of this rotation was interesting to say the least. Midway through the rotation, my grandfather was placed into hospice care and the gravity of the situation hit me hard. I was about to lose my grandfather, the man who treasured his grandchildren above all else, and the man with whom I would eat dinner almost every Sunday because Sundays were our family gathering days at his home. Seeing him near the brink of death hit me hard because I was not ready to lose him yet. He was the best grandfather I could ever ask for and I didn’t want him to go. I would see his face in every patient at the clinic. It took a lot of strength and power to avoid breaking down into tears. I was all too familiar with the stories of patients suffering through dementia; the rapid decline, the toll on the family, and the heartbreak of watching a loved one seemingly disappear. This empowered me to work even harder because I would hear his voice calling out my name and see his warm smile during each patient examination. I saw his smile for the last time a week before my rotation ended. He was asleep in his bed with the morphine dripping when I arrived during my lunch break. When he heard me, he awoke from his slumber briefly, eyes twinkling, and he flashed a smile I will never forget.
Sadly, my grandfather died a few days later. At his funeral, I reflected on the countless happy memories we shared together. I thought back to my work at the clinic and my pharmacy school experiences. I hope that I helped to empower those patients to create a few more memories with their families and loved ones. And I plan to continue working hard to help others as a new practitioner. After all, that’s what I believe life is about.
I want to thank my preceptor and the entire staff at the ambulatory clinic for guiding and instructing me. Thank you for comforting me during this difficult time in my life and for the opportunity to meet and help all those patients alongside an incredible team. My grandfather may no longer be with me, but I know I made him proud.