I visited Great Ormond St Hospital this afternoon as part of the Paediatrics course. The doctors there received us warmly (they don't normally have students) and taught us at the bedside. The experience made me think of a piece by Edvard Munch (famous for 'The Scream') called 'The Sick Child':
I was surprised that 8 students were taken on bedside teaching in one go, we made for an intimidating bunch for sick children. We visited a dozing child with a vastly distended abdomen. He was alone and one of us examined his tummy. I was saddened to see him awaken (yet remain confused and drowsy) and yelp plaintively during the exercise. The doctor informed us that he was 'a practised patient' and we weren't really hurting him - although his recoil and discomfort made me think otherwise.
We were encouraged to distract him with play - to no effect - but all the while I felt that I was somehow intruding where I shouldn't be. His parents were not there to consent to our presence, and the despondency of his medical condition was heart-wrenching. However, there was a definite air amongst the students - one of quiet respect, compassion, and sadness.
Having spent a reasonably peaceful week on the postnatal wards, I felt I had been exposed to the darker side of Paediatrics. Spending the morning performing baby-checks on newborns was a stark contrast to both the neonatal intensive care unit I later visited, seeing tiny premature babies in respiratory distress, gasping and grunting for breath.
Paediatrics seems an ideal opportunity for students to examine their own ideas about empathy and compassion. I'd be very interested to hear others experiences...