The adolescent clinic gets pretty busy. Tons of teens staring at you with wide eyes waiting for their name to be called next.
I had one patient that had the most questions I have ever seen.
She stood 5 feet tall with box braids of all different hues positioned in a high ponytail with her baby hairs smattered to her forehead. A decorative headband kept it all in place and her matching glasses sat at the tip of her nose like a teacher. They covered her big round eyes that had small bags under them probably due to the sleep she had lost worrying. She was so nervous about her test results after having unprotected sex with some boy that she flagged down one of the social workers passing by to find out if she was next.
So after I perused through her chart and walked into the waiting room abyss and shouted her name, she hopped up with excitement.
She eagerly followed me into the exam room and dropped her book bag down on the floor next to her chair as if the burden of the bag and what she had going on was all too much to bear. She plopped down on the chair right at the edge of the seat, put her hands on her knee caps, exhaled in preparation for what she was about to say and then confessed,
"So...I have a question...."
She lied of course. That was just the tip of the iceberg of questions she had. She had to say "I have another question" almost 50 times during that visit. So many unanswered questions, we discussed during that visit. From birth control to emergency contraception to pink panties, you name it, we discussed it. She was the type of girl that would have benefited from the STARS program I used to run in medical school, but for now our 15 minute walk in appointment would have to do.
I started the STARS program at the high school affiliated with my medical school because of girls like her. Who has unanswered questions, who had legitimate concerns, who were getting false information from their sisters or friends. I always hoped that what I told them and what I taught them would stick and that they would carry it with them for the rest of their lives. And that they would hear my voice every time they were about to make a bad decision. But I couldn't measure that like I measured their knowledge, I couldn't quantify it, it was intangible the impact my little program would have on these girls. All I could do was hope.
Until yesterday, when I had another busy day in clinic, hustling and bustling back and forth seeing patients. I looked over at one patient sitting in the waiting area and she looked so familiar. But I figured I recognized her from the street or something. And then a light bulb went off in my head: she was one of the STARS students from the first year I started! Her wing tipped eye liner and fashionable boots gave it all away. She wore a ton of make up even back then. It also explained why she kept staring at me.
But how was I gonna bring this up to her? Would she think I was creepy for remembering her and not want to disclose info to me? Or would she remember me and not want to disclose info to me because she thought I was gonna judge her? I sat in the preceptor area for at least 5 minutes trying to strategize how I was going to bring it up. And then I gave up and once again walked into the waiting room abyss and shouted her name, which I already knew of course.
She eagerly shot up from her chair and exclaimed,
"Do you remember me!?" And my heart leaped with joy, of course I remembered her. She was one of my best students, always came to the sessions, was very interactive and always had good questions. We sat in the exam room and chit chatted about how college was going (because she's in college now!!!!) what I was doing with my life and how I was a doctor now(she congratulated me on upgrading). We talked about the program and she reminisced about how much fun it was and how much she appreciated everything I had taught her. And then she asked if she could request for me to be her doctor, which of course I can't be because I'm only in the clinic for 1 month. It was such a surreal experience. All those hours spent putting together the curriculum, all those days spent printing out pages of information and cutting out handouts, all those trips back and forth to the high school. It was all worth it for that one tangible moment that I will never forget.
So for all those people out there who spend tireless hours helping others, just know the work you does not go unnoticed, especially by those who you help. The work you do does matter. They remember.