Caring for diverse families, I remember the Hippocratic Oath: “. . . There is art to medicine as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy, and understanding may outweigh the surgeon's knife or the chemist's drug.”
As I walked into the small basement clinic downtown Baltimore, I could sense the anxiety of the Spanish-speaking parents. They had been sent over by Maternal Fetal Medicine after being given the news that the fetal ultrasound had shown major birth defects, including developmental issues within the genitourinary system. These parents were informed that their baby’s chance of surviving the first year of life was low and they needed to see a pediatric urologist as soon as possible so they could decide how to proceed with the pregnancy.
Because I trained and practiced in inner city neighborhoods, I’ve become proficient in the skills of reviewing available records efficiently, and then distilling complicated medical diagnoses and treatment plans into simple, concise language that families can understand.
With these parents, as I sat and listened to their story with the help of a translator over the phone, I learned that they had difficulty with pregnancies. Now, in their forties, their prayers had finally been answered.
I proceeded to review normal kidney and bladder development with them through rudimentary drawings on the paper covering the exam bed. Next, I explained to them how the ultrasound showed that this usual development had not occurred with their baby. After all of this, I paused and asked, “Do you have any questions?”
They then looked at me and asked the dreaded question: “What would you do, doctor?” There was a long moment of silence as I reflected on my own journey as a mother of a preterm baby. Slowly, I took a deep breath and answered: I’ll help and support you with whatever you decide to do.”
As a pediatric specialist working with families from diverse backgrounds and cultures, I’m often reminded of the Hippocratic Oath that I took as a 4th year medical student: “I will remember that there is art to medicine as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy, and understanding may outweigh the surgeon’s knife or the chemist’s drug.”
After two years, multiple surgeries, and long hospital nights, the mother has learned English. We can now communicate without using Google Translate or a translator. On the last day before his recent discharge, we both watched proudly as her baby boy waddled down the long hospital hallway.
This piece expresses the views solely of the author. It does not necessarily represent the views of any organization, including Johns Hopkins Medicine.