Medical school didn’t teach me how to fix a patient’s broken heart

It was the first warm day of spring as I walked into the assisted-living facility for what would be the last time. I was on my way to Larry’s room, the resident of the facility that I had been paired with, when I was stopped by my group leader. “I have some terrible news,” he said. “Larry’s wife was moved to another facility — her dementia has worsened since our last visit.”

For the first time in my short medical career, I felt numb. Today was supposed to be a day for my classmates and me to celebrate the final visit with our residents. We had a slideshow prepared of interesting places we had been, which specialties we were interested in and pictures of our families and friends. “Delete my slides,” I told Andrew — the first-year medical student who organized the slideshow — as I sped towards Larry’s room.

I finally reached his door and paused. I was frozen. I realized I had no idea what I was going to say to him. For the duration of the time I spent with Larry, from practicing physical exams to obtaining his medical history, he would always find a way to talk about his wife. “A romance of 70 years — 70 years! How many other people do you know who have had a romance of 70 years?” he would often ask, to which I always replied, “You are the only one!”

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