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Behind the glass window: Experiences in an infant follow-up clinic

SMS (“Stanford Medical School”) Unplugged was recently launched as a forum for students to chronicle their experiences in medical school. The student-penned entries appear on Scope once a week; the entire blog series can be found in the SMS Unplugged category.

behind window - smallAs I mentioned in my last entry, I’m in Boston this summer. I’m one of several interns who are part of the Newborn Summer Student Research Program, coordinated by the Harvard Program in Neonatology, in partnership with a number of Boston hospitals. Aside from connecting us with excellent research mentors, this program ensures that participants get some clinical exposure as well. Over the past 5 weeks, I’ve had a chance to shadow physicians in the Boston Children’s Hospital neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), the Brigham and Women’s Hospital delivery room, the BWH nursery, and most recently, the BCH Infant Follow-Up Program (IFUP).

It’s this last shadowing experience – in the infant follow-up clinic – that I want to touch on in this entry. When I first heard about this clinic, I thought it was for babies who were being seen soon after birth, just to make sure everything was okay. As soon as I walked into the clinic, I realized that IFUP was not for newborn babies but rather for kids of all ages, who were being followed up on for various developmental issues that had arisen during their previous time spent in the NICU.

During my brief time in the clinic, I met patients ranging from 22 months to 10 or more years of age. I use the word “met” loosely here, for in fact, I did not meet a single patient in person during my time at the clinic. I stood with some fellow interns and some physicians behind a one-way mirror, quietly observing as various tests were run on these children. At first, I found myself fascinated by the physician administering the various tests (ex. the Stanford Binet, the Beery VMI), for I had never seen them given in a clinical setting.

Soon, however, my attention slipped from the physicians to the children being tested. I felt such a complex mixture of emotions: sadness, for many of these kids had never experienced a week devoid of doctor’s appointments; amazement, at how far these children had progressed developmentally given where they started; and humility, for it was pure luck that prevented me from sharing the same developmental struggles that these little patients did.

As these thoughts swam around in my mind, my attention slipped once more, from the children in the room to their parents. I felt drawn into the emotions that flitted across these parents’ faces – pride when their kids correctly answered the physician’s questions, a pang of pain when a question was answered incorrectly, a sense of helplessness when the physician mentioned that the child would need yet more therapy. In response to the latter, one mother said, “I’ll do whatever it takes.” Such a simple statement, something I’ve heard several times before in movies and TV shows, but hearing it here, in a clinical setting, while standing unseen behind a glass wall, my heart broke. I wanted to reach past the divider and give these parents and these little kids huge hugs, to tell them it would be okay.

I can’t quite say why this clinical experience touched me so much. Perhaps it’s because the glass wall between me and the patients, physicians, and family members was less like a barrier and more like a window, offering me a view into the lives of not only patients but also the family members who love them so much and the physicians that strive to do everything in their power to help them heal.

Hamsika Chandrasekar just finished her first year at Stanford’s medical school. She has an interest in medical education and pediatrics.

Photo by A

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