Notes from a Healer

One Man's Meat

Brian T. Maurer

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“Did you have any other concerns about your son today?” I ask the woman. Her 12-year-old boy is here for his school physical exam. Once again she reads through the list resting in her lap. We’ve already discussed his lack of attention in the classroom, failure to hand in homework on time, the beginnings of facial acne and his seasonal allergies.

“Actually, yes; there’s one more thing—he doesn’t eat meat.”

“No meat?” I say, raising my eyebrows. “Why not?”

The boy shrugs his shoulders. “I don’t like the fat part. Fat isn’t good for you, so I don’t eat it.”

I pick up the otoscope and begin the examination, peering into one of the boy’s ears. “Well, too much fat isn’t good for you,” I say, now looking into the other ear, “but a little fat isn’t bad. You can always trim away the excess fat before eating the meat.”

“There’s fat all the way through it,” the boy parries, opening his mouth and showing me his teeth.

I feel for any swollen glands in his neck and check his thyroid. “Maybe your mother can buy a cut of meat that’s leaner,” I suggest. “Let me listen to your lungs.”

I pop the stethoscope into my ears and shift the diaphragm from one side of his chest to the other as the boy takes some deep breaths. Afterwards, I listen to his heart. “Lie down on the table so I can examine your belly,” I say, directing him with my hand.

I listen to the boy’s abdomen, then pop the stethoscope out of my ears and drape it across my shoulders. “I’m going to push on your belly; you tell me if anything hurts.”

The boy nods his head, and I proceed with the exam.

“By the way, did you have breakfast this morning?”

The boy nods his head.

“What did you eat?” I ask, concentrating on palpating his liver.

“Bacon,” he says.

“Bacon?” I reply.

“It’s the only meat I can get him to eat,” his mother chimes in. “I figure a little meat is better than nothing.”

“Aren’t you concerned about the fat?” I ask the boy.

“Naw. The way my mom fries it nice and crisp, the fat goes away.”

There you have it: one man’s meat; another man’s poison.

Sometimes attempting to educate a patient turns out to be an education in itself.

About the Author

Brian T. Maurer has practiced pediatric medicine as a Physician Assistant for the past three decades.  As a clinician, he has always gravitated toward the humane aspect in patient care—what he calls the soul of medicine.  Over the past decade, Mr. Maurer has explored the illness narrative as a tool to enhance the education of medical students and cultivate an appreciation for the delivery of humane medical care.  His first book, Patients Are a Virtue, recently reviewed in The Yale Journal for Humanities in Medicine, is a collection of patient vignettes illustrating what Sir William Osler called “the poetry of the commonplace” in clinical medical practice. Interested readers can read more of the author's writings at his website and blog.

Published: August 30, 2009