Notes from a Healer

A New Era

Brian T. Maurer
btmaurer1@comcast.net

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As it was New Year’s Eve, my new employer told me I could close the after-hours care center early.  “You probably won’t have much business,” he said.  “People will be getting ready to celebrate, and I hear we might get some snow.”

I informed my medical assistant of the plan.  “We’ll see how the evening unfolds,” I told him.  “If it’s dead, we’ll pack it in.  I suppose you have plans to celebrate?”

“I never make plans,” my medical assistant said.  In some respects, he is a wise fellow.

I worked my way through a smattering of patients:  a few kids with sore throats, a fussy baby, a family which had been treated for strep requesting to be tested to make sure it was eradicated from the household.

It is different working in this new venue, where patients I don’t know just walk in during normal operating hours—a far cry from my previous 20 years at a private practice in town, where I knew the intimate details of the lives of each and every patient without consulting the medical record.

It was while I was running the strep tests in the lab that I heard footsteps in the hallway.  My medical assistant was escorting the last patient of the evening down the corridor:  a small child bundled in the arms of a young woman.  I recognized the resonating timbre of her voice.  “Gee, this is really nice,” the voice said.

The voice and the footsteps disappeared into an exam room behind a heavy wooden door.  A muffled conversation ensued.  Shortly, my medical assistant stepped out.  “Dr. Brian will be in to see him in a bit,” he said.

“Dr. Brian,” the woman’s voice chimed.  “You know Dr. Brian,” she said to the child.  “You remember him, right?”

The timer sounded.  All of the strep tests were negative—good news for the family of three.  I sent them happily on their way, pleased that they would not carry their strep forward into the New Year.

I reached for the chart on the counter top, read the name and stepped into the exam room.  The woman greeted me with a warm smile.  “So this is where you work now!” she said.

“Yes.  We’re offering an after-hours service for families who can’t make it in to their pediatricians’ offices during the day.”

“That’s a great idea!” the woman said.  “Is this an expansion of the other office?”

I shook my head.  “No, I’m afraid not.  After 20 years my former boss decided to sell out to a regional health consortium.  The terms they offered me were less than optimal, so I decided to leave,” I explained.  “And here I am.”

“That’s maddening,” the woman said.  “These big corporations put profit before patient care.”

“It’s a new era in medical practice,” I said.  “I’m afraid everything is moving in that direction.  Anyway, what’s up with your little guy?”

“Pink eye, I think.  He’s been fussy with a head cold and cough.  I worry about his ears, too.”

I recalled the string of ear infections this boy had in the past.  Sure enough, in addition to the pink eye, both of his ears were infected.

“We call it conjunctivitis-otitis syndrome,” I explained.  I wrote two prescriptions and handed them to the woman, who is the boy’s aunt.  The court placed him under her care because of her sister’s ongoing substance abuse. “These should fix him up.”

“Thanks so much,” she said.  “This is really nice here.  I’m sure we’ll be back at some point.”

“Well, that’s what we’re here for.”

“Happy New Year!”

“Same to you,” I said as I stepped aside, ushering them back down the corridor to the front lobby.

The medical assistant and I moved quickly through our routine to close the office.  He emptied the trash; I lowered the thermostats; he powered down the computer.  We donned our wraps and stepped outside into the cold.  It’s an old cliché, but I couldn’t resist.  “See you next year,” I said.  He laughed and climbed into his car.

I let my vehicle warm up a bit before heading out.  On the main road I signaled to change lanes in the slushy snow.  Suddenly, a massive pickup barreled down behind me as the driver laid on the horn.  At the last second I swerved back as the truck flew by, nearly missing a collision.

My heart raced as I gripped the wheel.  A crazy New Year’s Eve driver, eager to demonstrate his power.  Had we collided, I would have borne the brunt of the damage.

A new era indeed, I mused.  The older I get, the less I trust the wiles of my fellow men.

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: February 3, 2014