by Peter Coffin, M.D.One of the joys of being a doctor, particularly in Obstetrics and Gynecology, is the long term relationship one can build up with a patient. Sometimes it begins during a crisis, or a life threatening and tragic event. For me, the initial encounter is often in the delivery room, which almost always has a happy outcome. A delivery can occur in the midst of 10 or 15 other deliveries and can easily be forgotten in the fog of working 24 hours straight.
However, for that patient it might be the high point of her life. I am continually reminded of this when I happen to be wandering the aisles of the local Costco or Home Depot. Not infrequently, I will be introduced to a young 6-foot, 4-inch gentleman by his mother and be told that I delivered him 20 years ago.
Some people ask me if this makes me feel old. The answer is that I do not need these encounters to remind me of my age. The feeling I actually get is great gratification seeing how well these infants turned out and the immense pride their parents have in them. This is especially true if I have continued to see these mothers after their deliveries, and continue to get updates on their progress every couple of years.
In the past several years, there are two of these events that have given me special pleasure. One occurred recently when I was working in my office at Kaiser Permanente’s Vallejo Medical Center. A young pediatrician colleague, Dr. Isabelle Haller, walked into my office with a somewhat bemused expression on her face. She was holding her birth certificate and it had my name on it. I told her I really was doing deliveries in Oakland in the late '70s during my residency. I reassured her that I had not dropped her on her head. Even though I never saw her mother again, I was happy to see the outcome. I felt pride in what this young woman had accomplished.
In contrast, I have known another relatively new colleague her whole life. I delivered Dr. Keedra McNeill shortly after I arrived in Vallejo. I have had the privilege of knowing her mother, a very impressive person, for all the years since that time. Her kids and mine are close to the same age and whenever I saw her, we would compare notes on their progress. Keedra was always quite outgoing and precocious so it was easy to keep her in mind. I think I still have an elaborate drawing she made in the fourth grade.
Later, I heard she was starting medical school and I congratulated her mom for a job well done. Then she did her residency at Oakland Children’s Hospital. Finally, she accepted a job with Kaiser Permanente in Fairfield. Just as with Isabelle, it gives me an almost parental pride in how well she has turned out, and that I played a small part in what she became.
One is more likely to get these reminders in my field. As a health care provider, what I do can have a life-long effect on patients. Relationships with patients can continue even if I don’t see them for years, or if I have known them their whole lives. And either way, it is an honor to be a part of their lives.