As a pathologist who rarely interacts directly with patients, I was thrilled to see my patient’s drawing in a hospital publication. All clinicians should seek out opportunities to gain a more complete “picture” of their patients’ lives.
We all have patients that we remember. As an anatomic and molecular pathologist, I admit that I’m more likely to remember a patient by their tumor rather than their name, but some names stick. Several years ago, I diagnosed a rare tumor in a very rare anatomic site. It was so rare that the surgeon asked for her imaging findings, histology diagnosis, molecular confirmation, and subsequent treatment to be shared for teaching purposes. She granted permission, and now I frequently use her de-identified tumor as an example when I teach medical students and pathology residents about molecular diagnostics and different molecular testing methods.
In the immediate years prior to COVID I found myself experiencing exhaustion, burnout, depression. Something shifted in the second half of 2019, and I started making art with dedication. My current work is making paper collages, which simply requires paper, scissors, exacto knife, and a glue stick. Cutting, destroying, rearranging, reassembling, and creating something new. Survival. Therapy. Life.
Now I look for source material wherever I go. One day in the hospital, a softcover book of patients’ art by the arts and humanities program caught my eye. Returning to my office, I browsed the table of contents and the name of my patient jumped out at me. I was thrilled to see that she was still alive. As I said, I often don’t remember many patients’ names, but this one that I knew very very well. Although I’d never met her, I’d thought about her over the years. I flipped to her page and there was a drawing she’d made with a caption explaining that it represented a trip she and her husband had taken for her son’s race and how grateful she was to have experienced it. Instantly she was transformed from a patient, a case, a tumor, to a person with a family with many stories and memories. From this single drawing, I glimpsed the fullness of her life.
As a pathologist, I often don’t know what my patients experience in treatment of my diagnosis. I don’t have the opportunity to learn about their lives, listen to their experiences and connect with them. Seeing her art and the story in the caption gave me the opportunity to see her as a multifaceted person.
This piece expresses the views solely of the author. It does not necessarily represent the views of any organization, including Johns Hopkins Medicine.