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Am Fam Physician. 2007;75(12):1801

I am 84 years old and live alone in East Los Angeles. I was born in Mexico, and although I don't speak English, I was educated in a convent and am a Catholic sister. I walk with a walker and a four-prong cane, which I'm very proud of—I show it to everyone in the waiting room and tell everyone that my doctor got it for me. I used to fall a lot and come in with lots of bruises and muscle aches.

I have a hard time getting on the local buses to get around. My doctor got a hospital transportation bus to come and get me. It even comes to my door! She's trying to get me, through a community worker, a telephone that I can carry in my pocket.

My life is saying my prayers, reading my Biblia, going to church, and going to see my doctor. I go to see her every Friday now. I used to see her less often, but I was going into the hospital—my “hotel,” my doctor and I would joke—every couple of months for leg swelling, leg infections, and a hard time breathing. Two years ago, my doctor decided it would be better for me to have an appointment every Friday, and I haven't been to my “hotel” since. I am very proud of that. I also have a problem with my lungs where I can't breathe very well. The oxygen that the doctor got for my house is helping me a lot.

Most people call me “Señora Huerta,” but I ask my doctor to call me “Juanita” because we share a carino (love and affection) that is important to me. I bring her a little gift every time I see her to tell her how much I appreciate her care. Her hug makes me feel better, and her listening. Do you know she and I even have the same birthday? I laugh because I am la vieja (the old lady) and she is not. I am very grateful to God for mi doctora. She cares for me.—j.h., 84 (as retold by her doctor)

COMMENTARY

It gets too easy during the care of our patients, with the time pressures and demands we face, to forget the “heart” and “art” of medicine. The small gestures of compassion and care need not get lost in the bustle of our day if we keep present the “person” of our patients rather than their ailments. Compliance with medical regimens, especially among older patients, often is best accomplished by giving patients the tools they need (e.g., links with their churches, links with local agencies for food, transportation, assisted devices for ambulation, communication adapters for telephones) and by advocating on their behalf. Professional satisfaction often is found in the smallest acts of compassion, and the magnitude of patient gratitude can be immeasurable.

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