Writing About Medicine
The medical profession is a difficult job to say the least in a technical aspect. Arguably a much harder part of it also includes the fact that it is also a very emotional field for both patients and the professionals. To help train and prepare up and coming members of the medical field two stories that should be added to a curriculum that focuses on making them more empathetic are “A Small, Good Thing” by Carver and “People Like That are the Only People Here” by Moore.
To start, “A Small, Good Thing” is a short story about a child who is hit by a car, goes into a coma, and then eventually dies. However, the story is also filled with many other things that anyone who claims to want to join the medical field should pay attention to. In the beginning of the story, the mother orders a cake and naturally forgets to pick it up in the midst of dealing with her son. The baker hounds the parents for days about it and it causes extra stress on them. Something that that a medical professional should take away from this is that life continues to go on around the people whether or not they continue with it. Some people may have other children that also need to be attended to or must remember to pay a bill on time. The incident that they are dealing with in the hospital or doctor’s office is just one piece of a very complex life that these people have. If professionals were to be more understanding and empathetic about that the patient would surely feel at least a little bit better.
Another important thing that could be taken away from “A Small, Good thing” is that people in times of crisis try to make connections with others to help get them through the difficult times. Usually they try to make connections with others that are in similar situations such as when the mother of the child speaks with another family whose child had been stabbed. That is not always the case; however, the parents also make a connection to the baker who said himself he had no idea what it must be like to go through what they are going through. Something a medical professional could do is just try to listen and see if the person needs a friend. Not all people will be like this, but a reasonably large amount will be. Doing this makes the patient feel like they are less alone in what they are going through and they have someone to lean on.
Thirdly, and possibly the main idea of the story, is that the little things in life are what keeps people going. It is said in the title of “A Small, Good Thing.” At the end of the story the parents of the child are grieving over their son who just died that day. They go to the bakery with the baker that had been harassing them throughout the story about the cake that was never picked up. Once the baker finds out what happens, he is incredibly apologetic and does everything he can to try and make the couple feel at least a little bit better. He gives them different types of breads and pastries to try and talks to them about it all because he says as a baker that’s all he can do at this point. The bread was of good quality and eating of course is an important thing to do as well. Little things such as this are the things that actually give people the strength and courage to keep going. Some people hope some huge miraculous event will happen and make everything better. That thing will never come however. Miracles are miracles because they never happen. Because of this, people cling to small, good things. This isn’t as easy to try and say explicitly what to do but any empathetic human being should be able to think of something on the spot if they keep this in mind. As stated, it doesn’t need to be a huge act of kindness. Something as small as getting an extra blanket for the patient or coffee for the family is enough. Small acts of kindness can be just as effective as large ones.
Moving to “People Like That are the Only People Here,” it is a story of a family whose baby has a tumor on one of his kidneys. After removing the kidney, the family decides to not have the baby go through chemotherapy and will wait and see if it will be necessary. One thing a medical professional should take from this story and always keep in mind is that they must keep their explanation from being too technical. Most people do not have a medical background like the mother in the story. Even a common term for doctors can be confusing for the patient such as when the mother did not know what “in the bucket” means. Medical professionals should be aware that information the patient can’t understand is just as useless as having no information at all.
Another lesson that medical professionals can take from this story is that they must always keep a professional relationship with the patient. A shocking moment in the story is when the doctor has the audacity to ask for the mother’s autograph amidst her trying to figure out what to do for her baby. While on the surface it may seem like it doesn’t cause any harm to the patient or family, what it does is just add unnecessary things to the plate of the family. The family is in the middle of a crisis and it seems like the doctor only cares about an autograph. No matter who the patient or family of the patient is, the relationship should always be professional.
A third lesson that can be taken from the story is that medical professionals should do everything they can to keep the faith of the patient and their family. At one point in the story the mother begins to question the intelligence of the staff who are taking care of her child. This is something that should never happen. If the patients lose faith in the doctor, they will start to distrust everything they do, and it will cause unnecessary stress on the family. Seeming confident in what they are doing will ease the patients’ minds. Another thing that goes together with this idea is that all concerns the patient has, whether it seems trivial or not, must be taken seriously. A patient may not always know if something is a problem, but it should still be addressed to ease their mind. Doing these things will show to the patient that the doctor is not only compassionate, but also competent.
Another very important lesson that all medical professionals should keep in mind is that some people will not want to remember the experience they had. The mother at the end of the story says that she never wishes to see anyone from the hospital ever again. While her less than perfect experience with the staff could be a factor in her statement, it seems that with her personality she would not wish to return even if they did everything perfectly. Nobody can blame her as the entire place is associated with the memory of her child getting treated for cancer. Medical professionals will need to keep in mind that they can’t please everyone. By understanding some people just want to leave and put all the events that transpired behind them, they themselves will also be able to move on and continue to help other people.
Carver, Raymond. “A Small, Good Thing.” Writing About Medicine English 202D Marie McAllister, New York: Vintage, 1989, p. 18-29
Moore, Lorrie. “People Like That are the Only People Here.” Writing About Medicine English 202D Marie McAllister, New York: Knopf, 1998, p. 109-128