I frequently read seemingly touching articles by folk in a position of modest power or superiority, usually a doctor or teacher, sometimes a nurse, who expatiates on all the wonderful things he or she has learned from patients or students – those inferior beings who, one is amazed to learn, can have something of moment to impart to the august other. Generally this something has to do with the “meaning of life,” or accepting the slings and arrows with which unfair fate burdens them. I have to say that I too, frequently learn things from my patients, often things which have a lasting impact on my life. I am not talking about realizations with great philosophical impact, but with impact of another sort. Most recently, a patient told me that nearly everyone in life started peeling bananas from the wrong end. It is very difficult to get the peel opened up at the stem end, she said, and often requires a knife or a very strong thumb nail. The blossom end, on the other hand is soft and easy to poke into. “Try it,” she commanded, handing me a banana from her dinner tray. I did, and was amazed. It was a revelation. This is the sort of thing I learn from my patients – much more useful than eye-openers on the meaning of life. I frequently get good tips on books to read, and have met some of my favorite mystery authors through patient recommendations. I think of these patients every time I come across a new book by the author they introduced me to.
Once, years ago, a patient was knitting a little beaded purse. I was intrigued, and she told me in detail how to make one. I have made several and think of her every time. I have to admit that I purchased a booklet with the directions as I didn’t quite trust her to have remembered every step (all those narcotics, you know, can cloud the memory), but she had it exactly right. I could have saved the price of the booklet if I had not been “ye of little faith.”
Yes, one does learn valuable lessons from those we serve, and I am grateful for every one of them.