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Take Time To Listen

Algebra was the last thing on Dr. Todd Burry’s mind as he checked up on a 14-year-old patient in pediatrics. Dr. Burry, a surgeon with Evansville Surgical Associates, was doing rounds one weekend, and it was his job to determine whether the boy — a colleague’s patient — was ready to return home after a ruptured appendix had landed him in the hospital several days earlier.

The patient was well enough to get out of bed and walk, and Dr. Burry found him in the activities room in pediatrics working on math homework; he was concerned about getting too far behind in school. Dr. Burry’s original intention was just to talk to the boy and see how he was feeling before discharging him to go home. “I just made some off-the-cuff comment like, ‘Do you understand all of your algebra?’” Dr. Burry recalls. “And he said, ‘No, not really.’”

Dr. Burry, who says he’s always enjoyed math, offered his assistance, and together they tackled the few problems the patient was stuck on. The boy was surprised and impressed, as were his parents. “They got a joke out of it,” Dr. Burry remembers, “and he figured out the problems.”

For the busy surgeon, the incident was a precious reminder of the importance of connecting with patients, despite differing priorities. “My main concern was to get him ready to go home,” he says, “but for him, the algebra was a big deal. Busy doctors often forget that concerns are very different.”