Notes from a Healer

Think Pink

Brian T. Maurer

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"Think pink!" the medical assistant says with a laugh as she hands me the chart.

I glance down at the name. With the exception of a brief hiatus, this girl has been a patient of mine since she was an infant. I know her medical history by heart.

Her mother rises from the chair as I enter the room. "Don't get up,” I say, motioning with my hand for her to sit down. "How is everyone doing?" I address my question mostly to the girl sitting on the exam table. She smiles and says, "I have a little sore throat."

"We were worried about strep," the mother says. "I hear it's been going around."

"We've seen a number of cases of strep throat," I say. "There's also been some sort of virus making its rounds as well. When did you first get sick?"

"Last night," the girl says.

"Fever?" I ask.

The girl looks at her mother. "She felt warm, but I didn't take her temperature."

"Let's have a look," I say.

I reach for a throat lamp and step over to the girl. She sits on the exam table with her legs crossed, leaning back on outstretched arms. She's wearing hot pink lipstick and a bright pink tank top. She smiles at me when I ask her to open her mouth. Her throat doesn't look red. She has a few non-tender swollen glands in her neck.

"I'll run a strep test just to be sure," I say, sensing the mother's anxiety. The girl does not seem to mind. She readily sticks out her tongue and complies with my instruction to say ah.

"I'll be back in five minutes with the result," I say.

The test is negative. Nothing to worry about. The mother seems relieved. The girl still radiates her pleasant pink smile.

"This man has taken care of you since you were a baby," the mother says. "And you were such a little thing. For months you had such a hard time gaining weight. And look at you now—all grown up, off to college shortly." Then to me she says, "Do you remember when she was in the hospital with that blood infection?"

"I do," I nod my head. Pneumococcal bacteremia. She had been in the throes of a fever for nearly two weeks before she finally responded to a cocktail of high dose antibiotics.

Those were the days before the pneumococcal vaccine was readily available. Things are different now. With our nearly universal immunization rates, I haven't seen a case of pneumococcal bacteremia in over a decade.

"The nurses were concerned because you were so tiny," the mother says. "We fed you, but you never gained a pound."

I recall how this mother had hovered over her baby. She channeled all of her energies into this child. The father had been supportive, always standing by her side.

But sometimes a mother's love can become exclusive to the point where it shuts everything else out.

Over the years the father gradually receded into the background and then finally faded away all together. In the end he left his wife for another woman.

Some hurts never leave us. Willingly, we choke down our daily pill, but the bitterness still lingers in the back of the throat.

Standing there between this mother and daughter, despite the intensely burning pink blossom of youth, I could still sense the father's presence in the room.


About the Author

  • Photo of Brian T. MaurerBrian 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: June, 2012