By Breanna Lathrop
My one year-old daughter has a beautiful red and white handmade dress that finally fits her. I have been waiting for her to be able to wear it and she has a sweet blue dress with ribbons to match. One of my patients made them for her months ago and they are more beautiful than anything I could buy at the store. My home is filled with gifts from patients. There is a beautiful gown from Ghana in my closet and two figurines from China on our shelf. One of my favorite bracelets was a gift from a patient after her visit home to Pakistan. Some of my patients bring chocolate and one of my patients brings tamales that are so good I consider making her come in more often just so I can eat them. Another elderly patient, who I know lives on a fixed income, brings a twenty dollar bill to her appointment and donates it to the clinic “to help pay the electricity bill.” “I know no one helps pay for that,” she says and she is right.
Each of my three kids has their own blanket hand woven by one of my longtime patients. One night my oldest asked me, “Why did she make us blankets when she doesn’t even know us?” I explained to him that she cares about me and she knows I care a lot about you. It sounds simple but I am always struck by how profound this is. My patients don’t have to care about me. They are coming to me for a service and they deserve quality care. They choose to ask me how my kids are doing or how was my Christmas. They choose to take time and resources to demonstrate that they value me. It surprises me every time.
We all share a similar choice. If we care about people, if we care about our neighbors or people in neighboring zip codes, or people hours from us, then we must care about what matters to them. Cutting back the number and locations of public transit bus stops does not impact my daily life. But my immediate next door neighbors don’t own a car so loosing stops matters a lot to them. Whether or not Medicaid is expanded in Georgia won’t change the status of my health insurance but for many of my patients it would be a much needed opportunity to gain good coverage.
I am trying to be more like my patients. My patient spent hours making a blanket that will never keep her warm or decorate her room. She created it because she knows my kids matter more to me than anything else. I’ve decided that if I am going to care about people this means understanding what matters to them and caring about that too.