Note: Identifying details in the following post have been changed.

I saw my patient’s mother this morning.

My patient, the one I had three years ago when I was on Pediatrics. The one who, at the ripe old age of 12, was a survivor of the levees breaking and a sexual assault, had been pregnant, had miscarried. The child who looked up at me with ancient eyes, wary of my concern for her well-being. Suspicious.

Her mother, exhausted by life, kept a thin vigil from the large armchair of the room, trying to say the things that the doctors wanted her to say. She barely had enough energy to pull herself out of a post-Katrina haze to speak with us, much less help her daughter. The medical issues at play were not complex; it was this case that taught me how much of my job was going to be social work in nature. Still, by the time they left the hospital, I wasn’t entirely sure we’d managed to help them much at all.

I’ve looked for them ever since then, one or the other, hoping I’d see one of their names on my patient roster for the day. I’ve kept an eye out for them in the clinics and hospitals, thinking they might turn up again and I would have another chance at making a difference. No luck, though.

Then I saw her this morning, my patient’s mother, walking down the street as I was driving. She was wearing a work uniform and looked healthier than she had back in the hospital. Her eyes were not as sunken, her gaze less vague. I wanted to stop and get out and chase her down. I wanted to ask how she was doing, how her life was. I wanted to ask if she had married that guy, if her house had been repaired yet. I wanted to ask if her daughter was still in school, if she hadn’t had a baby yet. I wanted to ask if they’d both gotten the help they needed. I wanted them to know that they affected me, the wide-eyed medical student on her very first rotation. I wanted to ask if they were both okay.

But there are boundaries.

So I didn’t stop the car, didn’t chase her down, didn’t ask any of the questions that have been bothering me for three years. Instead, I just kept driving.

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