A Guy We’ll Call Willy


“Do you know what sickle cell disease is?”  Those were the first words to come out of my mouth of our first patient, a 47-year-old, African American male, with sickle cell.  I quickly uttered “no,” even though in my head I thought I did have an idea about what it was.  For the most part I knew what sickle cell was and could give a definition similar to the one you would see in a dictionary, but until this sesion was over I had no idea how it could affect the life of an individual who had it.

I introduced myself, pulled up a chair next to our patient, I’ll call him Willy, and my partner adn I began our little interview.  The thoughts that went through my head as I sat in that chair included: What am I doing here?  I’m not qualified for this, I’m just an M1.  What do I ask Willy in order to find out what I need to know?  Should I ask questions that are personal?  What do I do if it becomes too quiet?  What if I run out of questions?

Willy began by explaining to us his interpretation of sickle cell, and how he was in the hospital because he had a “crisis.”  They had given him a transfusion and some painkillers and he was to stay in the hospital for a couple more days just to be safe.  I do not recall all of the questions that we asked him, but I did notice that just by listening to what he had to say, I gathered all the information I need to write this paper.

Willy told us about his childhood, and how, because of the disease, he would always get picked last and how he needed a scooter in order to go biking with his friends cause he couldn’t keep up.  He told us about the friends and family (brother) that he had already lost due to the disease.  He was grateful to still be alive and revealed to us a history of drug abuse and alcoholism, saying that he feels he did some of those things becasue he gave up on life.  He figured that he was going to die anyway so what the hell.  Willy is the father of four children (all have the trait), two of whom he’s lost contact with.  His first wife died from the disease and his current girlfriend, whom he met at the clinic through his doctor, also has the disease.  Willy revealed more to us the likes of which could fill another page.  A half hour after our conversation began, we decided to let him get some rest.  We shook his hand, thanked him, and told him to hang in there.

I feel I learned quite a bit from this first patient experience.  It was amazing how much you coudl learn simply by listening.  The silence made me a little nervous but for the most part the interview flowed pretty well.  I’m sure Willy had a lot to do with that.  Most importantly, I got to experience what it is like to live with a disease and how it can affect one’s life.  I guess next time someone asks me if I know what sickle cell is I can say “yes.”


Louie Kantzavelos, Class of 2003