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The Boston Globe

Health & wellness

Reflections From Residency

Looking past a patient’s crimes a difficult challenge

It was the first day of a new rotation. I was getting to know my patients, trying to match faces and diagnoses with names on my list. A frail man with end-stage heart failure, Mr. T was too weak to walk and spent most of his time in a reclining chair. He had been in the hospital for weeks with pneumonia, kidney failure, and several other complications. I introduced myself and proceeded to examine him. He was quiet, unlike most of my other patients, asking few questions and voicing no complaints. Day after day, he would sit in the recliner, staring out the window. No one came to visit him.

A few days into the rotation, I found myself reading through his medical record, trying to figure out what his life outside the hospital had been like, and whether there might be a friend or relative able to help care for him after discharge. I was not prepared for what I discovered.

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