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Invisible Colleagues

ARTICLE: Invisible Colleagues

AUTHORS: Benjamin J. Oldfield

JOURNAL: N Engl J Med. 2015 Aug 27;373(9):792-3. doi: 10.1056/NEJMp1506873.

At least twice monthly, I see Ms. F. in the hospital where I'm training. Tall, with olive skin, freckles, and short curly hair, she walks with perfect posture in immaculate sneakers. She's in her late 20s and has moderate persistent asthma. Her two children, who occasionally visit her at work after school, both have asthma and eczema. Born and raised in East Baltimore, Ms. F. wears Ravens earrings on pregame Fridays and scorns the paucity of purple in my wardrobe.

The rest of her medical history is unknown to me, since Ms. F. is not a patient of mine. I have never seen her medical chart. Rather, we share a place of work: she as a janitor, and I, a resident. I last saw her out of the corner of my eye while discussing a case in the medical ICU, as she carted linens to and from the hospital laundry facility.

We met during my intern year when I was lost in the bowels of the hospital with an elderly patient, looking for the MRI suite. As I simultaneously steered the patient's gurney and called my senior resident for directions, I nearly ran over Ms. F. She dodged, smiled knowingly at my distress, and escorted us to the scanner. She remembers that event, and her toothy grin has brightened each interaction since.

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Kelsey Bennett