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Editor's Commentary on "A Little Bird Remembers"

 , January 15, 2019

When I read Uster’s “A Little Bird Remembers,” I am taken on an emotional journey through my own memories of patients with whom I have connected. Her skill with specific detail, like the bruises that “bloomed beneath paper-thin skin,” take me back to the rooms of elderly patients I cared for as a medical student. I can see their frail bodies, feel their loose skin under my fingertips. More memories pop up; her patient’s conspiratorial winks behind the attending’s back remind me of a patient who would interrupt my presentations with jokes to lighten the mood and ease my performance anxiety. The image of strawberry ice cream has me remembering the taste of the peanut butter cups a patient kept gifting my team during her stay. As I read on, I see more flashes of patients who have stuck with me through the years: a young girl’s peeling smile, yellowed swollen skin wrapped around a man in pain, the laugh of a daughter at her father’s bedside, the flickering beep of the monitor in the ICU room that held a young mother of three.

Ask any other physician to read this piece, and they will be reminded of moments with their own patients. Uster’s patient was right, she is “like a little bird.” We all are. We collect these scraps of memories and use them to create a nest of meaning for ourselves. When the long hours, frustrating phone calls, and failed attempts to place lines have us wondering why we do this work, we can return to these moments we have collected and find shelter. And not only does this process of reflection comfort us, it also allows us to hold onto the patients with whom we part ways. Uster has clearly woven this experience into who she is as a doctor, and whenever she wants to visit her friend, she can simply grab a scoop of ice cream and remember.

Mara Feingold-Link