During a routine prenatal visit, I noticed a nineteen year old pregnant mom had lost weight which is unusual in the second trimester. When I asked why, she lowered her head, said that she had paid a traffic ticket and hadn’t been eating well because there wasn’t much food in her freezer. She presently lived with her brother and sister and I’m not certain what happened to her parents. She was on a fixed income, receiving a monthly disability benefit and the traffic ticket affected her budget for the next two months.
I inquired whether she had visited any food pantries or applied for food stamps. Yes, she had applied the previous week and was waiting to receive a response. I offered to write a letter to expedite the process but knew I had to make a deeper decision. Do I passively listen to her complaint or become a pro-active physician?
I reflected on the fragility of my own life at age 19 and my difficult navigation into adulthood. I glanced at her pregnant belly and told her that before her exam was over, she’d have some money for food. My medical assistant of thirteen years rolled her eyes, sucked her teeth and muttered a sigh of frustration in Spanish. “You know she’s playing you,” she mumbled underneath her breath. “You’ve got a kind heart Dr. Galloway but you’re too nice. Let her go to a pantry. Somebody will help her.”
I’m a native New Yorker so I know the drill quite well. Yes, there are people who mistake kindness for weakness. And yes, there are patients who tell lies. However, I couldn’t ignore the patient’s weight loss or her unborn baby who needed nutrition, so I bought her a $30.00 gift card from the local supermarket.
Was it a scam? Who knows for sure? All I know is that the true gift is what comes from our heart.
*A Day in the Life© is a copyright series written to illustrate the challenging cases of pregnancy and the importance of receiving quality care. No part of this blog may be copied or reproduced without the express permission of the author, Linda Burke-Galloway, M.D.