Work & Life

Healing Beyond Medicine

Country of Origin: India

Sentinel Duet: Check out Yousef Waly’s moving story here for a complementary article from another doctor, also showing why great caregivers need emotional intelligence and empathy, as well as sound medical expertise, to really help their patients.

(Audio recording by Jordan Luz)
Hands clasped together
(Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash)

Patients, diagnoses, and treatments are my life.

As a medical intern, what else can I think of other than the whirlwind of patients? 

New challenges and lessons are what each day brings, but nothing could have prepared me for the encounter. An encounter that would leave a lasting imprint on my heart and impact my approach to patient care. 

It was a typical morning at the hospital when I received his case. He was diagnosed with dengue fever. After a thorough examination, I was asked to put in a urinary catheter as he was having burning sensations during urination. I discovered that he had smegma collected at the urethra, likely due to poor genital hygiene. This condition, though not uncommon, required a delicate approach to counseling the parents about the importance of that hygiene. 

As I walked into the consultation room to meet his parents, I felt a mix of emotions — empathy for the child’s discomfort and anxiety about how to broach the subject with his parents.

I took a deep breath, reminding myself of my duties as a doctor. My responsibility was not only to diagnose and treat but also educate and empower.

His parents’ love for him was evident, but as I probed further, I realized his parents were unaware of the essential steps of genital hygiene. They looked concerned and anxious as I gently explained the importance of cleanliness to prevent infections and discomfort. As I spoke, I tried to be sensitive and compassionate, ensuring I didn’t make them feel judged or inadequate as parents.

I drew parallels between routine hand hygiene and genital hygiene to make it relatable for them. Slowly, their apprehension began to fade. Their ignorance was now replaced by a genuine interest in learning how to take better care of him. I demonstrated the correct method and recommended age-appropriate techniques to teach him as he grew older. 

As I continued the conversation with his parents, I realized that connecting with the community was crucial. Any discussions about genitals were considered taboo, a resultant of a generational cycle of ignorance, and breaking it required not just medical knowledge but also cultural sensitivity. I understood that I needed to tailor my approach to suit their beliefs while ensuring his parents grasped the significance of proper hygiene.

Scrabble letter squares next to each other
(Photo courtesy of Brett Jordan Photography via Unsplash)

His case instilled in me a sense of social responsibility. I immediately proposed a project for the tribal population, offering encouragement and support as they navigated this new chapter of a subject long considered taboo. Initially there was resistance but with time, they became more comfortable discussing their concerns and asking questions.

The success here encouraged me to host awareness programs addressing common health-related misconceptions and promote open conversations about hygiene and health. My aim was to empower parents and caregivers with knowledge to ensure a healthier future for him and children like him.

His incident taught me an invaluable lesson – that compassion, patience, and cultural awareness are as important as medical expertise. As a doctor, I learned the privilege of healing beyond medicine was by building rapport and trust with patients and their families.

Mother and child smiling at each other
(Photo courtesy of Saradahi Photography via Unsplash)

Through these efforts, I hope to witness a transformation within the community. Parents should feel more confident seeking medical advice, and conversations around health must become normalized. Being a medical intern not only taught me medical skills but also the profound significance of doctor-patient counseling. Empathy, warmth, and understanding can bridge gaps and lead to lasting changes in patient lives. 

My journey with him and his parents taught me that true healing goes beyond prescriptions. It involves a genuine connection with the community we serve and a reminder that no issue is small and, if tackled properly, it can lead to a huge impact in the community.

Thank you to Yosef Baskin and Tripti Mund for their inspired edit on this piece and everyone else on the Work & Life team.

If you are interested in submitting a piece to the DG Sentinel, please visit our submissions page here.

Dr. Snigdha Sharma is a medical professional with numerous accolades in her field. She received the "International Best Researcher Award 2023" and the "Young Researcher Award 2022" for her exceptional research contributions. Currently serving as Editor for the book series "Futuristic Trends in Medical Sciences," she also interns with the Global Surgery Cohort ICORMed Collaborative. As the Indian Representative at the Consortium of Universities for Global Health, she actively promotes global health initiatives. Dr. Sharma has conducted workshops on “Clinical Communication Skills.” advocating for empathy in healthcare as an intern with the International Listening Association. She has authored over 10 research papers, including original and review articles, and serves on the editorial boards of reputable medical journals. Her commitment to medical education is evident through organizing India's first all-virtual medical conference and participating in many student programs during her internship.

One Comment

  • Anuj Sahu

    Thanks Snigdha for an insightful, kind piece. Raising awareness for health and hygiene is important, more so in rural India where awareness is low and stigma runs amok. I wish we talk more openly about sexual hygiene. This piece and your journey gives me hope.

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