So, medical school has started.

One of the patients we had the privilege to meet this past week was R. R is an elderly woman who had a stroke about 10 years ago. She lives with diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, high blood pressure and a son she does not have the best relationship with. As a whole, R can move her arms, but a combination of the stroke and arthritis has rendered one of her hands useless, one of her hands extremely weak, and both hands incompetent to do things such as hold money. She is able to walk, but only for at most 30 minutes before her legs swell and she has to sit down. She cannot work because of her physical condition. She has no formal education, most of her relatives are dying, and she cannot eat all the things she loves in order to control her diabetes. Regardless of all these issues, she is one of the strongest women I have ever met.

R’s stroke was thought to have occurred because she was overexerting herself at work—a display of her diligence and dedication. She taught herself to read at the age of 40, after attending church and finding her faith and spirituality in God. When we talked to her, she had no anxiety on her face, no sadness in her eyes, despite her condition and environment. Her smile was full of peace; her eyes crinkled with laugh lines. Because she was slowly losing function in her arms, she could not do much, but what she could do she tended to heartedly. She boasted of a garden she kept, with vegetables of every sort. “You can all come on over one of these days and I’ll feed ya!” she would laugh. She explained to us her devotion to church and her satisfaction with life because of God. She cracked jokes, winked warmly, and teased us occasionally. She gave off the impression that she did not like doctors.

If you had asked me even a year ago how I would have treated this woman, I would have naively rambled off a list of medications, diets, exercise regimens and even hospice care. However, I have come to understand that this woman is not something to fix, but someone to know. R could not do a lot physically, but in 15 minutes, she has taught me how to cherish and embrace what one has. Enjoying life does not necessarily mean no pain. Sometimes, comfort and peace through that pain is what makes life beautiful.

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