A short story about medicine in a small town, or how small communities and their connectedness can be healing. As a side note, when I share any patient stories I will usually change significant details to avoid breaking confidentiality but maintain the essence of the problem. If I feel like a story needs more real details to share, I’ve asked permission of the patient to share first, as in this case.
In the hospital is currently a woman who I’ll call Mary who’s been in a healthcare facility for over three months. She initially came in with near total paralysis from Guillain Barre syndrome, an immune disorder that attacks your nerves, can leave you unable to walk, use your hands, and in rare cases, even breathe. Our hospital here functions as an acute care hospital as well as an inpatient rehab unit, so once the initial part of her hospitalization was over, she transitioned to acute rehab where she’s remained as she gets stronger, with her goal of walking freely again. During her time here, her husband had brought her a knitting loom, which she took to with aplomb and began churning out hats. She’s made hats for other patients, the children’s unit, and hospital staff. Once I walked in on another patient of mine wearing a sprightly red and black hat, and asked if Mary had made it, and of course she had. Over the course of the last week, she’d had a few features written up about her, one in the hospital newsletter, and then one in the local paper, focusing on her rehab and how her love of craft and knitting had helped her to heal.
Over the last week, however, she had been getting quite despondent with what she felt was the slowness of her progress, and wanting things to get back to her normal, which I think anyone in her situation would feel. An elderly patient in the hospital in a different ward happened to read one of the newspaper articles and remembered that her husband had been afflicted with the same disease many years ago, and told him that he had to find Mary and go talk to her. And he did – coming into the ward, he asked for her room and walked in tentatively calling her name. She answered and he came in and sat at the side of her bed for over an hour, talking about his journey with Guillain Barre, how his recovery took six months, how he had even cried many times at his low moments wondering if he would fully recover, but how he eventually had.
I spoke with her the next day, and she felt entirely validated by the experience. Her tears and worry were not unusual, nor was she recovering too slowly. Someone else had struggled the same way she had, and had lived and thrived afterwards.
It was a healing conversation for Mary, and though it can’t take away all of the worries she has, was wonderful for her to have a connection with someone else. This is an aspect of rural small town medicine that I think is wonderful. The interconnectedness of the community and the openness of it make interactions like this possible, to the benefit of all.