Notes from a Healer
There Are No Ordinary Moments
Brian T. Maurer
It’s Friday, the end of a long week.
I arrive at the office early to find a stack of charts already waiting on the desk for my attention. I drop my briefcase, unlock the desk drawers and settle in to sort through the pile. Some are prescription refill requests, some are lab studies that have come in over the course of the night, one is an x-ray report on an 8-year-old girl’s foot that a colleague had ordered two days ago.
I sign off on the prescription refills, review the routine lab studies, then pick up the phone to call the home of the little girl who had the x-ray study. I recognize the grandmother’s voice as she answers the phone.
“Hello,” I say, identifying myself in a single breath. “I don’t know if anyone called you back with the results of your granddaughter’s x-ray. Good news—only some soft tissue swelling of the foot. There’s no sign of a broken bone.”
“That’s good. I didn’t think she broke her foot, but I just wanted to be sure. They found a bone tumor in her mother’s leg—my daughter—when she was ten years old. You never know about these things.”
“Oh, my—how did they discover it?”
“She was riding a go-cart when we were away over summer vacation. Another boy banged into her and she broke her leg. The doctor in the emergency room told us that she would’ve broken it eventually because the tumor had weakened the bone.”
I hesitate a moment, then ask: “How is she doing with it now?”
“Oh, she’s fine with the leg so far as I know. It’s the drugs that have a hold of her now.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.”
“Yes, I haven’t seen her in a couple of years. Last I heard she was in prison. They took away her other kids, too. I’ve been raising my grandchildren on my own.”
“Thank goodness for you,” I say.
“I guess this is the work that I’ve been given to do for now,” she tells me. “I pray every day for my daughter, pray that maybe she’d turn herself around after she hits rock bottom. These drugs—they’re the devil’s work. They get hold of a person and pull them down so far they can’t get up. It just breaks your heart.”
“I can well imagine. The tumor on your daughter’s leg—I take it that it wasn’t bone cancer?”
“Oh no, nothing like that. I don’t remember what they called it—that was so long ago. I was worried that my granddaughter might get something like that.”
“I suppose it’s possible, but not likely. I wouldn’t worry about it at this point. She should heal up fine from this latest sprain.”
“Good. Well, thanks so much for calling me back. I was worried sick about that foot. You put my mind at ease.”
So much for a routine Friday morning call-back. As I hang up the phone, my eye glimpses a small slip of paper tucked under the corner of the blotter on my desk—the remnant of a recent Chinese luncheon, the contents of a fortune cookie that reads: “There are no ordinary moments.”
About the Author
Brian T. Maurer has practiced pediatric medicine as a Physician Assistant for the past three decades. As a clinician, he has always gravitated toward the humane aspect in patient care—what he calls the soul of medicine. Over the past decade, Mr. Maurer has explored the illness narrative as a tool to enhance the education of medical students and cultivate an appreciation for the delivery of humane medical care. His first book, Patients Are a Virtue, recently reviewed in The Yale Journal for Humanities in Medicine, is a collection of fifty-seven patient vignettes illustrating what Sir William Osler called “the poetry of the commonplace” in clinical medical practice.
Published: November 3, 2008