Blog | Thursday, December 29, 2016

Next to the next-of-kin


There is this whole session we do with the medical students about navigating those sticky moments as doctors. Like, where somebody calls you up and asks you for random antibiotics or to look at the rash on the back of their leg while you're trying to chill during a jazz festival in the park. It involves these role plays on how to shut all that down and, if I recall correctly, this part where you just sort of sit around and talk about it.

“What will you do when the homie asks for some blood pressure pills refills?”

“What's the right answer to the old man at your car wash asking you to hook him up with some of them Viagras?”

Ha.

So yeah. We talk to them about all of that stuff. And, for the most part, it's fine.

Yeah.

But here's the thing--the older I get as a doctor, the more I'm realizing how great of a privilege it is to be next to the next-of-kin. That is, the person who helps a friend or their family navigate scary, lumpy times. I got to do that twice this week. And let me tell you--it did as much for me as it did them.

It did.

Now. I will come right on out and make a confession counter to that last statement: It feels good when I have a very personal connection to the patient or the loved one of the patient. Like, the mother of my sorority sister from my pledge line in college? I want to be the one you call. I want to be next to the next-of-kin.

But.

Your next door neighbor's daughter's boyfriend? I do care. I do. But no. I'd prefer not to be the go to on that one. You? Your mom? That is, if we have a relationship? Yes. Which kind of sucks since by nature as doctors we are supposed to be selfless servants of humankind, you know?

Yeah.

Anyways. I told those students, just listen to your spirit and what feels right. You cannot be the doctor in the family for everyone but it's good to be the doctor in the family for more than just the ones related to you by blood. It's up to you to measure out what that is.

Although the antibiotics and the random Viagras are pretty much a no regardless of our blood relationship.

Ha.

I guess these last few days has me reflecting on how so many aspects of being a doctor can't be taught in a classroom or even on the ward. You have to live it, man. You do.

So tomorrow? I will round on my hospital patients. Then I will round on the couple of people that are on my next to the next-of-kin list. And it is all on my terms and it all feels right. Very right. Nope, I'm not calling doctor shots. Just being there and answering questions. Holding hands and helping making sense out of stuff. And I love it because every time I do that, some piece of me feels like this piece of being a doctor was one of the most important parts of me becoming one at all.

That's all.

Kimberly Manning, MD, FACP, FAAP is an associate professor of medicine at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, Georgia where she teaches medical students and residents at Grady Hospital. This post is adapted from Reflections of a Grady Doctor, Dr. Manning’s blog about teaching, learning, caring and growing in medicine and life. It has been adapted and reprinted with permission. Identifying information has been changed to protect individuals’ privacy.