Mid-summer in Southern California is that special time of year when being outside creates a euphoria unlike any other. The days are longer, and evenings are spent taking walks around the neighborhood or having dinner on the patio. I appreciate these moments and am thankful for all of the opportunities that the PA profession has granted me. However, there are times when I seem to take the life I live for granted. Recently, my life was firmly put in perspective of how fortunate I truly am.
Summer is also the time when athletes are conditioning and getting ready to participate in sports at the high school and collegiate levels. As a PA in orthopaedics, I participate in my clinic’s community outreach to local schools and help conduct pre-participation sports physicals for the athletes. This is something I have done for the past few years, and each year has its uniqueness. Whether it’s the male with undiagnosed Marfan syndrome or the teenager with an eating disorder, I do my best to counsel and educate the athletes as much as I can. For many, this may be the only encounter they have with a practitioner all year.
I haven’t even made it through the bulk of the athletes yet, and this year’s examinations have already affected me more than years prior. It was the first day of physical exams for the local junior college; the football players were lined up, and I was ready in my makeshift exam room set up in the locker room. As each player entered, I introduced myself and reviewed their documented health history, taking note of any prior history of concussions or family history of cardiac problems. Over the years, I have become efficient, and I am able to get through the history and exam in a timely manner, allowing patients to ask any health-related questions at the end.
Being in a surgical subspecialty, I am interested in the stories behind the post-surgical scars people have. When I notice a scar during the exam, I tend to ask what surgery they had and when they had it. There are the typical appendectomy scars or scars form minor lacerations as a child. But midway through the day, I was examining an athlete with a scar just below the xiphoid process. Being an unusual looking scar and at an even more unusual location, I asked about its origin. When asked, he replied that, as a teenager, he was stabbed while being jumped by gang members. He was lucky to be alive and has learned to refocus his energy on playing football and living a positive life. I felt bad asking about the scar and bringing up such horrible memories, but the athlete was receptive and told me that the experience taught him to enjoy life and be thankful for every day. Once I completed my exam, he thanked me for taking the time to talk with him, and I wished him best of luck in the upcoming football season.
I headed home that night thinking about my interaction with that athlete. What he had to endure and the environment he grew up in were nothing that I could remotely relate to or have great empathy for. I have come to learn that for all of the education and help I provide to patients, the patients themselves are teaching and educating me just as much, and for this, I continue to be thankful.
Anthony Gauthier, PA-C, ATC, works in an orthopaedic surgical group in Long Beach, Calif. He graduated in 2008 from Western University’s PA program in Pomona, Calif.