Allison Briggs, M4, Class of 2019
“Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.” The words read on Sunday came floating back into my mind as I wiped the dried blood off my 10-year-old patient’s foot, ankle, and shin. Her earlier crying had quieted to the occasional sob, and she was laying back on the emergency room gurney. Ten new stitches sat in a row underneath her knee, holding together her cut from the playground. I peeked a glance when I knew she was looking away, unable to stop checking that everything was in place.
“Have you ever sutured before?” my attending had inquired.
“Not on a human,” I bluntly replied. I wanted to be honest about my inexperience, but I am sure he could see my eagerness. I am sure he could also sense my dread. A long but shallow lower extremity laceration with clear edges was not the highest of stakes or the most difficult of wounds to repair. It was still a far cry from pigs’ feet or faded kitchen towels – my previous patients.
“How about I put in a few sutures to help the wound margins line up, then you can put in the rest?” he offered.
“Sounds like a plan.” I tried to respond nonchalantly. That’s when my mind started racing. Though not a parent, I couldn’t image my baby being a medical student’s first suture. Everyone must start somewhere, I tried to reassure myself.
The suturing process was slow and tedious. I tried to focus on the task in front of me, but I was acutely aware of the pulse in my ears, roaring over the sound of my patient’s tears.
All things considered, the sutures were relatively even. I hoped when her parents returned with the interpreter, they would be pleased. My attending quickly and gracefully dressed and bandaged the wound, stood up and brushed himself off.
“You did a great job; you were very brave,” he reassured our young dependent. Turning to me, “Why don’t you grab a washcloth, some soap and water and get her cleaned up so we can get her home.” The fresh white bandage stood in stark contrast to the remainder of her limb; her tan skin was now a deep maroon.
“You also should wash one another’s feet.” To me, it is a metaphor for the life of empathy and service I want to live. The last time I had literally washed a person’s feet was during my wedding ceremony. Perhaps that’s why the request resounded so deeply within me.
Working quietly, I wondered about the circumstances that had brought her in to see us. On the playground, a stumble ending with scraped hands and knees is not out of the ordinary. In kindergarten, I somehow managed to include the skin on my nose when I fell. However, dragging a knee on a piece of broken glass when tripping on the playground was not something I ever faced.
As I finished cleaning her leg and prepared to leave the room, I told her I would go get her parents from the waiting room. Then, I squeezed her hand and couldn’t help but repeat my attending as I reassured her, “Muy valiente.” Very brave.