the symptoms untold


The chances are that if you come to the ER, you are not feeling well. Let’s face it, who just goes to the ER for a routine checkup…actually I am not going to answer that because it happens more than you think. Anyway, my point is that the patients who walk through the door are often nervous, anxious, worried, and scared because they don’t know why they are feeling bad and are seeking help in their time of need.

A 35 year old male by the name of Mr. Robbie Robinson came into the ED because his shunt for dialysis was malfunctioning. After a medical evaluation, Mr. Robbie was treated and was going to be admitted for urgent dialysis. At this point, I went to go check up on Mr. Robbie to see how he was doing and to see if there was anything that I could do to make his stay more comfortable. Herein lies the problem discovered very quickly…Mr. Robbie was not a very kind or hospitable man. He was very angry, frustrated, and outwardly rude to me and the other people who were taking care with him. There were many aggressive encounters with the staff and multiple occasions when he would yell profanities to those who passed by his glass door. He eventually got so fed up that things were not being done according to his liking and decided to leave AMA (against medical advice). As he was getting his stuff together, I noticed something very heartbreaking. The same man, who was bitter, obscene, rude, and demeaning to everyone he came in contact with, was weeping on the side of his bed. Because the attending physician told us to stay out the room unless it was medically necessary, I watched from the nurses station. Mr. Robbie eventually calmed down, got back into the hospital bed, and was brought upstairs to his room.

As I was processing what I just witnessed, I came to realize in a new way that healthcare providers should not just analyze and treat the medical symptoms of the person, but they also treat the symptoms not told, that is but not always, a patients personal life. This man had some obvious emotional problems, and you will never be able to separate the emotional from the physical symptoms. A patients home life is just as crucial in the diagnosis as his physical symptoms, and I can say that in medicine, this aspect of the person is often disregarded or seen as superfluous.

Nobody is angry for the sake of being angry; nobody is demeaning for the sake of being demeaning; nobody is rude for the sake of being rude. People are angry because somebody has been angry at them; people are demeaning because they themselves have been demeaned; people are rude because they have been treated rudely.

Taking care of Mr. Robbie has taught me that oftentimes, the way a patient acts is not always indicative of who they are as people. Mr. Robbie probably did have very unfortunate and tragic things happen to him in his life, and in turn, was very angry at us. However, in spite of this, and this is possibly one of the most difficult ares of medicine, we are called to love him. We are called to love the person and especially the person within the person who is suffering, and the person the patient is whenever they come in is no way indicative of who they are in the sight of the Father.

Jesus Christ is so intimately and mysteriously present with those who suffer, meaning, that Jesus Christ was suffering with Mr. Robbie in his pain, frustration, and sadness. All healthcare providers are called to recognize this fact: our patients are human beings living in sometimes very messy situations, and it is our job to love them regardless of what they say or do because of the sheer fact that Jesus Himself loves and is present within them.

Often times, it is the symptoms not told that illuminate to us the depth of suffering within the patient…not just the physical symptoms. The symptoms not told often serve as obstacles to delivering quality patient care; however, that is the nature of medicine. As I said before, people do not come to the ER when they are feeling good, people come when they are hurting and broken, and each person that comes in presents an opportunity to encounter the person within.

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