Community Medicine Week 2: Breathless

“Life is measured not by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.”  

                                                                                                                                             – Author Unknown (Uncertain Origins)

When a patient comes to you, complaining of difficulty of breathing, a long list of differentials come to mind, ranging from the apparent pulmonary etiology to the more complicated renal pathology. But in the case of A.D., 23/F, it is highly probable that her shortness of breath is caused by an exacerbation of her bronchial asthma, most likely exercise-induced. It is probably her own fault, knowing that her lungs can’t handle prolonged walks, much less keep up with her healthy, non-asthmatic friends when it comes to physical activity, yet still attempting to assert herself. Ayan tuloy, hingal na hingal…  To think I’d have an uncontrolled asthma week here in the community. Sigh…

It is ironic that an aspiring doctor such as myself would have several co-morbidities, yet it is proof that physicians, no matter how much they are sometimes revered as mortals attempting to combat death, one disease entity as a time, are still quite human when it comes right down to it. A beloved Family Medicine consultant once told me that I should look at my illnesses as a sort of blessing in that they help me empathize more with my patients. I know first hand what pain is, and not just physical pain, and I know first hand how difficult and extremely debilitating it can all get. I know what it’s like to feel so hopeless, when you feel so, so weak that it’s hard to even feed yourself. I know what it’s like to gasp for air, to literally be breathless. 

when the doctor becomes the patient…. || 23-year-old female presents with shortness of breath and slight chest tightness; Tx: Salbutamol 2mg/tab q6 for now || Never take breathing for granted. Some of us find it so difficult to do.

So, even more so now that I’m in a way running my own clinic at the Luksuhin Ibaba Barangay Health Station (BHS), I make it a point to listen to my patients’ stories, to believe in pain scores, to take note of all complaints. If it is something they deemed important enough to warrant a consult, then by all means, let me do my best to address all concerns. I’ve heard all sorts of complaints during my clinic duties at the BHS. There was a young mother who brought her 2-month-old baby for ‘loss of appetite’ when in fact, the baby was well and healthy, just a little bloated and  needed a little burping. I simply taught the mother about feeding cues and to not force feed her baby. I also had a variety of ‘headache’ complaints, the history-taking of which was almost enough to induce a headache of my own. Di ko po alam, doc. Basta po masakit! goes on, while another insists, Ay, 10 out of 10 po talaga, doc! Ganun kasakit! Still, pain is subjective. 

My determination to hold clinic today despite my breathlessness seems to bear little as I only saw three patients today. But maybe, for the three of them, my efforts were a big deal. They were able to see a doctor (well, almost a doctor) today. They were able to get free medicines today. They were able to be advised today. And as always, I am comforted by their grateful smiles. 

I remain constantly appreciative of the little moments, those quiet patient times when you can just converse freely with patients. A welcome change from hospital life (UP-PGH life, in particular) where everything seems to be in fast forward and just the mere thought of taking your time is seemingly punishable by demerit. It is these quiet moments that frequently go unnoticed, frequently taken for granted. We are sometimes so overcome with excitement, with adventure, with twists and turns, that we fail to appreciate the quiet times. 

But they are, in fact, what we live for. They are the very moments that make every breath we make worth making.

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