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Every morning, I walk through a parking garage and catch the elevator from the 2nd floor to the 7th floor. The parking garage is shared by a myriad of people.

Yesterday, as I was running (well, rather jogging…which is often slower than the pace of someone speed walking…) to catch the elevator, I saw a familiar face. It was the face of a patient that I had met while shadowing. For the sake of anonymity, I won’t say what department or give identifying details about the patient. As we walked by, we shared a smile and I wondered if he recognized me. After all, the hospital here is enormous with a lot of faces and people. It’s easy to be just another face in the crowd. Easy to share another smile. Easy to continue walking past one another.

I remember this patient and his/her story. I remember thinking how easily one’s life trajectory can be altered by one doctor’s appointment. This person had visited the doctor for a simple symptom–only to leave the doctor with a completely unexpected and life altering diagnosis.

When I was shadowing, the patient was getting ready to undergo a fairly important surgery. As we pass each other by, I briefly entertain the thought of stopping and asking how the surgery went; I think of explaining that I was a medical student and remembered him/her. I want to ask how s/he is feeling. But I don’t. Why? I’m worried that it could be breaching the patient’s confidentiality by acknowledging that I remember him/her. I’m worried that s/he would be uncomfortable because I remember. It’s also chilly in the parking garage…stopping this person would mean that s/he would have to stand in the chilly garage for more minutes than required.

And as the elevator doors close, I’m still torn and I wonder if walking on by was the right choice…or if I should have stopped to ask and to talk.

I still don’t know.