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Guerrera, Mary P. MD

doi: 10.1097/ACM.0b013e3181f9fea9
Other Features: Teaching and Learning Moments

Dr. Guerrera is professor, Department of Family Medicine, University of Connecticut School of Medicine, Farmington, Connecticut.

It was an exceptionally busy day at our family medicine training site. With the place a hum and at maximum capacity, I found myself working from exam rooms not part of my usual routine. In the middle of a physical on a young man, I lowered the back of the exam table. Being in an unfamiliar room, I searched to find the appropriate lever. Unaware that the table was an older model than the ones in my ‘regular' rooms, I depressed the lever, anticipating the need to push the back into position. To my surprise, the full force of the upright table suddenly slammed down, smashing my thumb in its path! Following the initial shock and pain, I realized I was bleeding and awkwardly explained to my patient (while grabbing a handful of tissues, compressing, and elevating my thumb) that I needed to step out of the room and would be back as soon as possible. While fleeing into the hallway and feeling rather vagal, I bumped into a nurse who took one look at me and demanded that I go lie down.

Luckily, I found an open exam room, and, as I lay on the table, a sea of thoughts immediately flooded my mind: How embarrassing! What's happening to the patient? Is my thumb broken? How will I finish the rest of my schedule? Continuing to hold my throbbing thumb above my head while lying on my back, I could not but notice what a boring ceiling we had in our office. In all the years that I had worked here, I never saw it from this angle.

Soon a nurse appeared with an icepack, and we both cautiously examined my thumb, determining that an emergency room visit was a good idea. She exited to make the arrangements, and again I was left in the room staring at the ceiling. “We really should have something interesting up there,” I thought. Nice art work or pictures of nature would be much more comforting than those blank white tiles accented by the bright fluorescent lights.

Fortunately, after careful inspection and cleansing in the ER, my thumb only required a bit of special glue, and I was good to go. I returned to the office the next day armed with pictures from old wilderness calendars, cleanly cut out and ready for posting. The staff was delighted, and the patients loved them. I realized that my exam table mishap had afforded me a poignant perspective. Although we often are advised to see a situation from a different perspective, we do not always put it into practice. I now smile when I look up at the pictures, reminded that becoming a patient in my own office yielded valuable insights that I could only have imagined.

© 2010 Association of American Medical Colleges