Let's be honest: Hospitals often feel like factories. The minute you walk in, it's as if you're on a conveyer belt—intake forms to sign; doctors to meet; tests, tests, and more tests. Then maybe surgery, more tests, more meetings. You're being wheeled from here to there so fast, it can be difficult to feel like you're being heard. That's why it's important for patients to let their doctors know who they really are—their goals, fears, and hopes. Doing that in a time of crisis is hard—I know some patients who prefer to limit small talk, but letting your true self shine through can provide calm amid the frenetic pace of medical care.

Recently, a patient came to my hospital's ER with difficulty speaking and blurry vision. An MRI revealed a brain tumor. When I went to deliver the news, I fully expected the fearful looks from his family, but then he did something unexpected and said, "Please, sit down." It transformed a sterile hospital setting into a family room. Research shows that when patients receive a diagnosis, they recall only a small fraction of the information. By making the conversation more personal, this patient helped form a connection, and his understanding of what to expect improved.

Then there was the patient who lived near the beach and told me that after his surgery, he wanted to spend more time there. Or the first-time grandfather who made sure I saw a picture of his weeks-old granddaughter before discussing his test results. And I still remember the woman who brought her silk pajamas from home. These little details humanize an often impersonal experience. The woman in her floral-print pj's was probably one of a dozen surgeries that day, but she reminded me that she was more than just a patient, a diagnosis. The gestures may be small, but they can help you create a more meaningful bond that allows you to simply be you—and makes us better at our jobs.


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