I’ll preface this post with a warning.  I’m going to touch on some serious things so if the topics of death and dying make you uncomfortable, I won’t take it personally if you don’t read any further.

 I was talking with someone recently and we were discussing my career.  I made the statement that I have learned so much more from my patients than they could ever learn from me.  The person I was speaking with asked me to elaborate on that, and the rest of this post is essentially my response to that. 

My patients have taught me a very valuable lesson in priorities and what really matters… or doesn’t.  I’ll give two very good examples of that.

When you’re holding a patient’s hand as he dies and his wife of over fifty years is sitting on the other side of the bed holding his other hand and you see her pain at the loss of this incredibly large part of her life, it makes the fact you had a flat tire on the way to work and broke a fingernail just not matter at all.  (The flat tire and broken fingernail I made up for an example.  The part about the patient is true.)

When you’re sitting at the bedside of a twenty-some year old man who knows he’s going to die soon and he’s got tears in his eyes as he tells you that the only thing that makes him smile anymore is holding his toddler son, it makes the fact the hot water tank at home is broken just not important at all.  (Again, the hot water tank being broken is an example, but the part about the patient is true.) 

I’ve learned from my patients how to tell the difference between the small problems in life and the big ones.  And I’m lucky to say that all the problems in my life right now are small ones.  I thank my patients for being able to see that and appreciate that.  I will forever be grateful to each and every one of them for that lesson.