Holding Hands

Holding Hands

A student talks about staying in the moment

The first patient that ever hugged me, bit me first.  She wasn’t even my patient. We had been paired up in teams of two in POM to do our last patient interviews of the year. I had already interviewed my patient, but I was also supposed to observe my partner’s interview.  When we walked into the room the patient was crying. The nurse, standing over her, said “go ahead and interview her now. It’ll take her mind off what I’m doing.”

The patient had a traction device bolted to her leg. She had staples snaking from below her knee all the way up her thigh. It was time to remove the staples. I had never seen anything like it. “You can interview me,” she said to my partner, and then, looking at me, “but only if she holds my hand.”

The patient answered questions through gritted teeth, squeezing my hand until I could hardly feel it. After a particularly deep staple, she turned her head toward my hand and chomped down as hard as she could between my thumb and index finger. At that moment I had some idea of how much pain she was in. Her bite brought me back from my thoughts of how cool the traction device looked, of how amazing it was that they were able to use a vein from her leg to save her foot, of how one wrong step on some rocks could leave you in a hospital looking like this. It brought me back to her: a 50-year-old mother of grown children, who had already spent two weeks in the rehab hospital, getting staples pulled out of her leg without any family around to comfort her.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I’m usually the one that has to tell my grown kids to stop being such babies. If they could only see me now.”

When we finished the interview, she hugged me and thanked me. I hugged her back. She needed my hand. I needed her bite.