The Magical Key

Lori B. Gaylor, PA-C, MPAS, DFAAPA

There is an article in The New England Journal of Medicine, published October 4, 2018, written by Taimur Safder, MD, titled “The Name of The Dog”. Go find it. Read it for yourself. It’s worth your time. I love to read NEJM articles, and I take most of them with a small grain of salt. Studies, articles, new medications, current treatment guidelines, all can be skewed to show results that may or may not be of help to us in our day to day practice, and often opinions are simply opinions, one person’s perspective. This hallowed publication, however, is considered one of the bibles of medicine. It is a way to exchange and share information, and to be published in this journal is quite the honor. This particular article should be required reading for every student, trainee, intern, resident, physician, NP and PA lucky enough to care for patients. It contains the secret key.

This key, however, is like the magical sword in the stone. It is only available to those wise enough to understand what it unlocks for them. What is this magical key? It is the key to the kingdom. It is the key that provides us with the ability to solve mysteries, find the answers we seek, gain the trust and the cooperation of our patients and their families, and it is the key that gives us a love for our calling to medicine. It is the key that will keep us moving when we are weary, when we are down, when we are discouraged, and especially when we are ready to chuck it all and call a surrender. This magical key gives us the weapon that will keep us positive even if those around us are jaded, negative, tired, and cynical.

I hope that every person who cares for a patient understands the honor, and the responsibility, given to them when they don that white coat, or wrap that stethoscope around their neck, or wield a scalpel or a pen or a computer mouse. I hope they care enough to struggle with the unknown, and to search for answers, to feel terrified at what they don’t know, and terrified at what they do know. I hope they never distance themselves, apart from, and separate from, the suffering and the misery, and the endless complaints of pain and the inability to make a change. I understand why they may do this, as they have been told it is the only way to survive. But that is not true. There is another way. It is with the key, by asking the name of the dog. There is a joy to be found in human connection.

I am one of the lucky ones. I found the key early in my medical career. It has worked its magic for me. Never has there been a day, in over 35 years of practice, that I have not enjoyed taking care of patients. I love getting to know these intricate, mysterious human beings that trust me to care for them. Having the magical key sometimes almost feels like cheating, as once a connection is made, the answers come easily. The mysteries are solved. The information flows. Before injecting a knee, or evaluating a sore shoulder, or taking care of whatever medical business is being done, I sit down, just for a minute, and say hello. I listen, I look them in the eye. I hear what they are saying, and what they are not saying. These patients are someone’s mother, father, sister, brother, son, daughter, or loved one. They have dogs, and cats, and pets and hobbies, and they have troubles and worries and fears. I am a dog person, so I especially connect with other dog people. I love to ask what kind of dog they have, and quite often we compare photos of our pets and our people. I get great recipes, and I hear of wonderful places to travel, and where to get the best bargains or the freshest seafood. I hear of sadness and struggles, and heartache that fills the room. I also get trust, and a connection, and, sometimes, the ability to help.

  • Do you want this magical key for yourself? This is important. It is life-changing. Do you have the wisdom and the ability to remove this sword from the stone? If not, just wait. Read the article. Keep trying. Give it time. See through the medical problems and find the person that is your patient, so that they, in return, can see you. And as Dr. Safder so perfectly says, “Make sure to get the name of the dog.”


See Lori B. Gaylor, PA-C, MPAS, DFAAPA speak at the GAPA 2020 Summer Conference in Sandestin, Florida July 13-17.

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