And what kind of faces do we remember? That depends on what we tend to associate the person with. Happy thoughts with happy faces, sad thoughts with sad ones, and unpleasant memories with the ugliest depictions of the person we can recall.
The face is our most important edifice of identity - in fact, it has been the subject of such adoration and infatuation that the cosmetics market is a booming one. It is so important that many of us, at a point in our lives, have wished that we could upgrade our looks. It is the premier asset we want to flaunt, the foremost display of confidence, and the very tool we use to attract attention to ourselves. Let us be honest, many of us wake up each day and stare into the mirror, only to find ourselves wishing that we could somehow look much better than our current state.
But for the medical student and the accomplished physician, the face is more important that just being a tool with which to garner social attention - it is one of the most important markers of one's health.
For example, you know a sick dog when you see one - the limping leg, the scabies-infested skin, the forlorn eyes, the gaping mouth with its weakly lolling tongue and the lifelessness of its gait.
The same applies to a human being. Ever thought of the phrase - to look like Death?
Can it be that the diseased state of your heart, or lungs, or liver, or kidneys could be carved onto those facial creases - that one's dying moment can be seen in one's eyes? That one's failing bodily functions be set in that ashened face?
Having walked the wards for the past few months, I have learnt to identify what I call, the 'facies of the sick'. Somehow, having seen the faces of so many sick and dying, it is no longer difficult to tell the face of a healthy person from a sick patient. The dull eyes and sunken cheeks of the patient dying from stage 4 cancer, the heavily heaving chest and the pale lips of a person suffering from a paroxysm of asthma, the fatigued yet anxious face of a man with acute exacerbation of COPD trying his best to breathe through a venturi mask, the half delirious face of a man with hepatic encephalopathy or diabetic ketoacidosis and the hopeless look in an elderly man lying in a hospital, shaking from his rigors and driven half mad by his fever, knowing he is far from his loved ones in a foreign nation.
The eyes are the window to the soul - true indeed. In sickness and in health, your eyes can be a very useful storyteller. And combined with a carefully taken history and a sharp eye, one can make a relatively good diagnosis of what is perhaps afflicting the person in question.