Kamika Cooper and Urmilla Khanna

Kamika Cooper
“my healer”
digital photography/illustration


Art and Science in Medicine
By Urmilla Khanna
Inspiration piece

“Jonathan has an earache?” I said in a half-angry voice as I took an emergency phone call from Mrs. Martin and fumbled to turn on the bedside lamp. It was three a.m.

“Yes doctor, I am sorry to disturb you at this hour, but he has been crying non-stop all night. I have given him Tylenol every three hours instead of every four as you usually recommend, just to help us get through the night, but it has not helped at all.”

I heard Jonathan’s wailing in the background and my anger turned into empathy. I listened to mom’s story and assessed the situation. Jonathan had been well and had been playing outdoors for long hours that day. It had been a hot and humid week in Washington D.C. He did not have fever, cough, cold or sore throat. The pain came on rather abruptly, sometime after his shower in the evening.

“Well, you have two options. You could run him over to an emergency clinic or would you rather wait to see me in the office. I could see him the first thing in the morning,” I said.

“If I take him to the emergency room, I will probably not be seen for three or four hours, anyway. I’ll call your office and come see you the first thing in the morning,” mom said.

I was in my office at nine the following morning, browsing through the day’s schedule. Mrs. Martin walked in soon thereafter. She was carrying four-year-old Jonathan propped up on her shoulder, her face anxious, her hair disheveled.

“Let me get you settled in a room,” the nurse walked the patient into room #3. She often referred to this room as the room with a view because it had a large picture window. Jonathan’s piercing cry penetrated through the walls and closed door of the exam room. I knew I had to attend to him right away. I came to the doorway of room #3 and spoke directly to Jonathan. “I am going to come and see you in just a minute and mom and I are going to see if we cannot make your pain any better.” Hearing my voice his howling changed to quieter sobs. “I’ll be with you as soon as I can,” I reassured him.

I collected his chart, my stethoscope and otoscope and walked in to see Jonathan. He was sitting on the table clutching on to his teddy bear and blanket. His eyes were red and swollen, teeth chattering, face smudged with tears and mucus. I let a few minutes go by letting mom vent about her fretful night. As I stood listening, I was wiping tears off Jonathan’s cheeks. He blew his nose into the tissue I held up for him. Next, I helped him lie down, covering him with his blanket and tucking his stuffed toy beside him. I ran my hands over his brow and hair, gently massaging his scalp, giving him more time to settle down. Now I looked at his throat, his nose, his right ear and finally went to the offending ear. There was no surprise for what I saw. He had a flaming red and swollen ear canal, making it impossible for me to view the tympanic membrane. He had external otitis, commonly known as swimmers ear, a very painful condition. The warm humid summers of Washington DC area are notorious triggers for this kind of yeast infection in children’s ears.

I explained it all to mom and discussed my treatment plan. I would pack the ear canal with a wick soaked in a medicinal ointment. The child continued to listen intently.

“I’ll ask the nurse to get the tray ready and I’ll be back shortly,” I was now speaking directly to the four-year-old. Before I left the room, I took another moment to explain the procedure to Jonathan in a language that he would understand. As I spoke, I was stroking his limp forearm and clamp, sweaty belly. His anxious eyes were no longer a stream of tears.

As I was stepping out, he sat up on the exam-table, smiling. “Can we go home now?” he said to his mother. “My ear is all better.”

That ear was a ball of fire and was surely extremely painful. I had felt the stinging pain myself as I was examining him.

Jonathan had taught me a lesson that I have never forgotten—the healing power of touch—a lost art in present day medicine.

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