Steven F. Isenberg,
suspect that we have all been there, at
least once. A struggling, courageous
patient, friend, or family member battles an acute or chronic disease, pain, or
disability. As physicians, perhaps we view
this from a unique perspective-surely, it
would seem, we could do more to help.
And if we cannot help, what can we do to
express our admiration for the courage,
or mettle, it takes to battle for your life?
That is where I found myself one
day in 2003 when a single, spontaneous gesture of compassion changed my
life and that of many others. I had just
completed the Chicago Marathon when
I learned that a friend (and patient
and colleague) had been re-admitted to
the hospital. Enduring several previous
malignancies-some that I had treatedand polymyositis that flared with each
of them, this previously vibrant internist/anesthesiologist was_nowpost-operative from prostate cancer surgery.
In spite of a darkened room, intrave-
nous fluids, and the smell of sickness,
Lesgreeted me with his customary
robust spirit. I was caught between my
frustration with his sickness and my
overwhelming respect for his courage.
Spontaneously, I opened my briefcase,
removed my Chicago finisher's medal,
and hung it around his neck. Giving him
my medal seemed to express my respect
for his mettle. I was not completely sure
what it meant to him until after he died.
His family told me that he treasured it as
much as anything he had ever received.
I began giving my other medals to
more patients. Before long, my passion
evolved into a non-profit organization,
Medals4Mettle (www.medals4mettle.
org). M4M now has chapters in 24 states
and around the world. Endurance athletes from around the world have given
more than 11,000 medals, complete
with new, brightly colored M4M ribbons.
Individual medal awards and numerous
.hospital eVents are taking place nearly
every month.
In April 2009, I visited the historic
London hospital Great Ormond Chil-
dren's Hospital (GOSH)the day before
I ran the London Marathon. M4M had
shipped several medals (Donald Duck,
Mickey Mouse, Goofy,etc); to GOSH,
donated by Disney Marathon finishers,
complete with new M4M ribbons.
I arrived expecting a media show
much as I had experienced several times
in the U.S.In fact, local celebrities and
others usually passed out the medals
while I was busy administering M4M out
of my medical office. But for a variety
of reasons, the London media did not
make it. It seemed that M4M had yet
another experience planned for me.
For over two hours, I walked through
the historic units at GOSHduring family
visitating hours on a Saturday morning
after doctors' rounds. I passed out about
50 medals, visited with patients, their
exhausted families, and the dedicated
nurses who cared for them. I was a
marathon runner and an American, not
a physician.
There was Georgie, an eight-year-old
whose seizures had just stopped after 18
continuous days. His mother cried when
he received the donated Disney medal.
His father and I talked about how Georgie loved to watch the London marathoners run by their home in Greenwich.
Georgie, of course, was not going to
be home for the 2009 London Marathon, but he did receive his own medal.
Georgie's parents, who wanted to talk
about anything other than his illness,
had promised him a trip to Disney some
day. That Saturday, he received a small
piece of Disney from a marathoner who
donated a hard-earned medal, and
from the many volunteers who make it
possible for Medals4Mettle to continue
its mission.
I met Isaac and gave him an amazing
medul that had a compass inside. When
I first passed his room, he was too sick
for any visitors. When he realized there
was a compass in the medal, his smile lit
up the room.
In addition, I witnessed a 17-year-old
girl with kidney disease cry and then
smile when she received a medal. I could
sense her justifiable frustration that she
was 17 and stuck in a children's hospital
on a Saturday morning. She wanted to
know my number so she could follow my
run during the London Marathon.
I visited a blind child, who rapidly
reviewed the present with her fingers,
and then smiled when she realized it
was hers. The children with tracheostomies and permanent ventilators
suspended their medals above their beds
and, as we approached units, the buzz
about our visit preceded us with ambulatory patients greeting us in the halls.
I was the one who received the biggest
gift that day. When medicine is your
profession, it is easy to miss some of
what is going on around us. I can tell
you that these children and their tireless
families rely upon, and deeply respect,
their nurses and physicians.
I left with renewed inspiration about
my career as a physician and founder
of Medals4Mettle. There should be no
debate about this aspect of healthcare,
wherever one might be in the world.
The doctor/patient relationship must be
preserved, for all of us.
Four ways to renew
Phone: 1-877-722-6467 (US)
1-703-836-4444 (lnt'l)
703-684-4288 (US)
Monday - Friday,8:30am - 5:00pm EST
Online: www.entnet.org/renew
PO Box 632848
Baltimore, MD 21263-2848
If you would like to witness this
incredible feeling, email me at [email protected] and 1will put you
in touch with a local Medals4Mettie
coordinator. Youmight consider taking
off the scrubs, the white coat, or tie,
and just visiting with these patients and
their families.
Medals4Mettie made it possible for
me to gain a unique perspective at
GOSH.1am certain it will inspire you,
and others you might bring with you, as
I know it will put a smile on the recipient you are visiting. As we say at M4M:
"Someone is in a tougher race than you
are right now."
M4M celebrates our collective human
courage. London took us one step closer
to our vision of medals as the international, trans-cultural, compassionate currency of good will and support
among human beings. To learn more,
visit us at www.medals4mettle.rog.
Dr. Isenberg was honored at the 2009
AAO-HNSF Annual Meeting &
with the first Arnold P. Gold Foundation
Award for Humanism in Medicine.
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