Comfort Always: St. Louis University

by Michael Scolarici, St. Louis University

It was Wednesday morning.  Some friends and I woke up at 6:00AM to slip in a run before the sun began to crawl over the horizon.  After returning I led a reflection with two main focuses:  a phrase from Coach Michael Arenberg, “First thought, good thought,” and a quote from Dr. Thomas A. Dooley a Saint Louis University Medical School graduate “A doctor’s job is to cure sometimes, to relieve often, and to comfort always.”  I wanted to share the first phase from one of my high school mentors to remind my new friends that we have the power to decide if we are going to have a good day or let the obstacles we face bring us down.  The second quote aligns with our Health immersion trip, because not only does it describe a doctor’s duties, but Dr. Dooley says that the main responsibility of a doctor is to comfort.  No one on the trip was a doctor, but we all have the capability to comfort those we interacted with on our trip.

After we finished sharing our thoughts on the reflection, Adam, Sara and I traveled to Boone County, WV to serve and shadow at the Boone-Raleigh health clinic.  Our shadowing experience offered very unique opportunities which included taking vital signs of the incoming patients, brainstorming for ideas on a grant regarding black lung, interacting with patients in the blood lab.  The atmosphere of this rural clinic was simple yet warming, and the staff was glad to have us for the morning.

          

Once the three of us began to settle in for the morning, I felt that we posed less of a burden and offered more of a relief to the staff through our conversation and aid in busy work.  I was asked to follow the student physician’s assistant (PA) as she held an appointment for prescription refills with an older mother and daughter.  The student PA completed a very thorough and professional history despite a seemingly routine appointment, and after a few minutes of talking with each patient she was able to open their lives and delve deeper.  Both mother and daughter complained of not only a persistent coughs but chronic vomiting and diarrhea for the daughter and knee pain for the mother.  Besides the cough, both mother and daughter also had a distrust of medicine in common.  The daughter explained that despite only eating baby food, oatmeal, and Pepto-bismal for the past couple of months, she only would trust one hospital to see a gastrointestinal specialist.  Although the mother repeated multiple times that although she has knee pain, she was adamant about not wanting anyone to touch it with needles.  The mother also was very specific that she would only consider getting her knee x-rayed by a nurse she knows at the clinic.  Understanding their concerns, the student PA discussed how she could try to accommodate their requests but also that they might have to step out of their comfort zones to get the appropriate treatment they needed.

This obvious distrust of the medical system is frightening because it adds another layer of complications when trying to treat someone who is now not only limited by poverty and access to healthcare but also by their own fear.  Earlier in the week, I also shadowed at Jackson General Hospital, and one of the patients in the clinic was almost desperate to take off his wrist identification from the hospital.  He explained to the PA if you don’t have one of them on then there is nothing wrong with you.  Some may call this ignorance of their own health needs, but there is something deeper.  Fear of what the doctor may tell them and fear of what anyone involved in healthcare may do to them burrows deep into the culture.  This fear is contagious and needs to be addressed along with all of the other public health concerns that everyone knows about throughout WV.  Whether it be lung cancer, obesity, diabetes, bad knees, or a mystery gastrointestinal problem, fear must first be calmed and over come before a patient will accept and follow a healthcare provider especially in the areas that I saw in West Virginia.

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