I walked into Grady behind a medical student one busy weekday morning. It was just before 9 a.m. and you could tell he was on a mission. His footing was brisk. Lacking an overcoat or a lunch box, it was clear he hadn't just arrived at the hospital.
Shuffling ahead of him was an older gentleman with a stack of papers in his hands. His posture was stooped and his pants appeared to be soiled with days and days of repeat wearings. Even from where I was, a few feet behind him, his dank body odor wafted into my nostrils. He stopped near the hallway and leaned his hand against the wall to take a breath.
That's when I saw what happened next. That hustle-bustling student blew past that man and instead of wrinkling his nose in distaste and casting a judging side eye in his direction he stopped in his tracks when he noticed the man standing there. You could tell that he was, in that split second, trying to decide what to do next.
There he stood at the mouth of the elevator vestibule where a large group in white coats of various lengths had already gathered in anticipation of the often sluggish lift.
The elevator arrived. I watched that student to see what he'd do. As folks filed into the car, he still stood in his place. Then, like something went off in his head, he made a decision.
“Sir? Are you alright?” he asked. His eyes were earnest. His cheeks were still flushed from rushing indoors.
“Just getting my breath is all,” the Grady elder said. And I watched from where I was, noticing that there was something about the way that man had his palm splayed against the tile wall that suggested he wasn't okay. And like something was awry.
“Were you headed to the emergency department?” the student asked next.
“Naw. I had a clinic ‘pertnment but today I just been getting short at the breath so can't walk so fast.”
“Do you have chest pain?”
“Naw. Jest short wind is all.”
I saw that student doctor look from side to side and make what I believe was one of his first triage decisions. He didn't think that it was okay to leave this man to himself and from what I had gathered in those quick moments, I agreed with his assessment.
But I could tell that student wasn't sure what to do.
I decided to interject. “Sir? What clinic you headed to this morning, sir?”
I nodded to the student and positioned my body to let him know that we were in this together. No, I wasn't dismissing him or discounting his involvement one bit.
“Okay then, sir. How ‘bout we go on and get you a wheelchair and see about you right away in the clinic? They can check you out and see if you need something more today than just your regular appointment.”
My voice was filled with the musical deference I reserve specifically for my Grady elders. I pulled out my cell phone and called up to the clinic. And less than three minutes later, a nurse appeared with a wheelchair poised and ready to save the day.
And you know what? Two more elevators came and went but that student stayed right where he was. Even when I thanked him for his help and empathic response to this gentleman, he still looked conflicted. Like this was now his patient. And as this man's doctor, he shouldn't leave his side.
“This is what we can't teach you,” I told him. “This.” I patted my chest over my heart. His cheeks turned a blazing crimson. I leaned over to the patient. “Sir, would you be okay with me letting this student doctor who stopped to see about you know how everything worked out?”
“That'd be alright with me.”
And that student smiled big and genuine at that Grady elder first and then me second. And that was that. Off they rolled to the clinic and on that student went to his original destination.
The patient needed a little extra water pill for his very advanced heart failure, but was mostly okay after getting some assistance. And, as promised, I followed up with the student doctor who seemed as relieved as he was surprised that I actually called to tell him.
So that was what happened and that was that. And that is Grady Hospital, and the future of medicine. Perfect, quiet, humanistic moments tucked inside of dinging elevators and blurry white coats running to join rounds. All of it is Grady, and all of it is spectacular.