Notes from a Healer

Those We Carry With Us

Brian T. Maurer

Bookmark and Share


It’s been several years since last I saw him.  In the interim, he’s had quite a run.

He suffered a major concussion in a motor vehicle accident last winter, which triggered a string of grand mal seizures.  He’s seen a neurologist, who started him on phenytoin.  The medication seems to be working.  He’s had a couple of break-through seizures along the way, mostly provoked by emotional upset.  To me this is no surprise; I recall that his mother suffered from hysterical seizures up until the time of her premature death.

I notice the electronic bracelet attached to his ankle.  Since his release from prison, he’s been mandated a strict curfew.  He’s required to check in weekly with his parole officer.

He admits to smoking a pack of cigarettes every day, but that’s perhaps the lesser of two evils.  At least he’s no longer mainlining heroin or popping Percocet.  And he hasn’t had a drink in nearly three months.

He’s been living with his court-appointed guardian since his release from prison—a good thing, he says.

He’s also got a steady girlfriend; she’s been good for him, and he’s been good to her.

Now he’s attending night school, working to get his high school diploma, with plans to start undergraduate school sometime next year.

He tells me that this is the most happy he’s been since before the death of his mother six years ago.

He pauses to show me the tattoo of his mother on his arm.  “I’ll never forget her,” he vows.  “She did the best she could for me.”

I’ll never forget her either; never forget the day that she had a seizure in the waiting room as she was leaving our office.  It was evening.  She had come in to talk with me about concerns she had about her son.  By the time we finished, it was after hours; the office personnel had already left.  As I escorted her to the front door, she suddenly stopped and swirled around; her eyes rolled back in her head.  I caught her and eased her down to the floor.  Her entire body trembled momentarily as she stared off into space.

I moved to examine her eyes with my outstretched index finger.  Sure enough, she blinked—a telltale clinical sign indicating that this was a hysterical seizure.

After she came out of it, she told me that the seizures had started shortly after the rape that had resulted in her one and only pregnancy.  I wasn’t sure if her son ever knew about the incident or not.

Today I place a tuberculin test on his forearm and administer a dose of meningococcal vaccine, which he will need to attend college.  He asks me to give him the shot in the opposite arm to avoid puncturing the tattoo of his mother.

But these two things are probably the least important that I do for him today.  I listen to him, I validate him as a human being, and I encourage him as he moves forward with his life.

“Your mother would be proud of you today,” I tell him as I shake his hand.  “So am I.”

He clings to my hand momentarily and regards my face.  I know that he knows what I’m telling him is true.

Some of us need more time to grow up than others.  Some of us never seem to make that transition.

In this case, I am glad to report that, despite his difficult history, he doesn’t seem to fit into the latter category.


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: September 9, 2012