Reconciliation

I shared an email I received from a patient’s wife in clinic today. That patient had passed away a few years back. We were all sitting in clinic going about our daily business. The email asked me to say “hi” to everyone. I had forgotten about it but then someone reminded me of him. So I pulled it out and I shared it out loud.  It tugged at us and told us “you are always in our hearts”. As I was reading I was unaware that Wendee my nurse had started to cry, she sobbed “don’t they know that they never leave us too?”. Everyone around me was silent, and I said “I think they do know”. The email was gracious, magnificent if you asked me. She was telling me that she loved my blog and that she felt her husband beside her as she read it, that his children, when they grew older, would read it too. She thanked me for the years I gave them together and how she held us in her heart, of how we are always on her mind.

I take the bus home on occasions. It was a strange ride for me today. I could not shake the feeling of this email, it stayed with me. I had read this alone and it had a different effect. It was Wendee’s words that were echoing in the hollows of my mind. I stared at the advertisements that were plastered on the bus. One said in bold letters “have you ever saved a life?” My thoughts floated away, I remembered a younger version of myself talking to this man as a brother and confidant. I remembered our bond, our relationship. Paul Coelho a Brazilian lyricist says “When a person really desires something, the entire universe conspires to help that person to realize his dream.” This was this man to me. He was a pragmatic man that understood his fate, but he realized a dream that I could not possibly understand. Here was his wife thanking me for years I gave. Yet I felt I lost the battle. The truth is no I did not “save” a life.

The bus stops close to my home but a walk away. I crunched through the cold, walking to my house. Thoughts and images of my interaction with him. I miss my friend. What a man he was. A man of my age, his wife still thankful, still appreciative, still supportive. “Do they know they never leave us too?” And I reconciled that disconnect that I have. I felt I failed, and she felt I won. Simple exchanges from one human to the next make a difference far greater than one can expect. I really appreciate the kindness, in helping me feel a loss is a victory nonetheless. 

Thank you.

Mo

Inconvenience

Last night it seems one of the pipes connecting our water heater froze in our home. What an inconvenience! Stranded I was unable to go to work this morning. Commitments needed to be canceled, meetings moved and rescheduled, I disappointed many but this is important, we have no water in the house and I needed to stay home and wait for someone who understands pipes to come and tell me what is going on. I needed a specialist who could help me evaluate and manage my problem. But I had to change my plans and my day is not going as I had wanted it to.

When my patients are on chemotherapy (chemo), they are at the mercy of the cancer, the side-effects, their blood counts and the specialist. What I am feeling now is an understatement to how it must feel for them to be stranded with a situation that they have no control over. My patients make plans and have lives outside of their cancer that they really do not want to interrupt to be hospitalized and receive chemo. When they come all prepared to be admitted for their chemo, sometimes they do not get what they want. I have many a times delayed a chemo regimen and offset plans that they had. I see how frustrated they become and hear them say “but this means I am going to miss the wedding now”.  This is an aspect of my job I do not enjoy. Most patients receiving chemo are healthy and live active lives in between cycles, and I have stressed that they don’t let the cancer rule their lives, and that they should plan and we will work around their plans. That is easier said than done. Cancer interferes, ruining moments and events and it does not have a schedule.

In delivering chemotherapy to a patient an oncologist will try to stay on track but what patients don’t know is we sometimes have “wiggle room” as I like to call it. We can add a day or subtract a day to get things to accommodate some plans that my patients have. So when they come back for an unanticipated admission or are delayed for things beyond their control I do enjoy giving back “wiggling” their plans back into their lives. The plumber said he would be here at 9am but showed up at 10:30am. The weather is bad today, the roads slick, and cars in ditches, but he came through. He has taken up half my day, but he came, and now the hot water is back. I do strive to ensure that all my patients driving through their bad storms get to where they need to in the end. While the outcome can be as bright as simply fixing a problem to help a patient reach a goal that they wanted – it does make for a better day.

Mo

Fragile

It was a slow day in clinic. Time was plentiful. Patients trickled in to be seen. I watched my practice in slow motion. I helped a patient make a better decision about their care. I contemplated on how fragile our health really is; on how symptoms dominate our thoughts and how having good health truly makes a difference to how we live our life. 

Cancer can be very silent in our bodies with vague unnoticed symptoms. It eats at our vitality and makes us weaker though we may not feel it until it is too late. It attacks us physically, emotionally and socially. It is difficult to convince a patient who feels well to accept a therapy that itself would make them feel worse. It’s a very delicate state to explain to a patient their vulnerability and how this disease could end their lives if they do not accept the therapy at hand. I find it frightening at the number of choices there are to navigate and how little time we have to explain rationally to our patients the best options they have.

What happens when the therapy we have to offer really does not have an impact on their lives or wellbeing? Should it be offered? How do you explain with all the progress that is hyped in the media that science for this one patient lags in finding a treatment that helps them get through their ordeal?

Today I felt I had that time, because things happened slowly. It was a refreshing look at care where as things moved slowly it felt like I could see more detail and focus more on my patient. It was like watching the replay of a touchdown.  I have always felt that healing is a process that needs time on its side.

Each patient as an individual needs to be handled with the utmost care, like they were a vase that could easily break. Perhaps that is how it should always be.

 Mo

Half Way There

Light when it strikes a prism splits into many colors.  We are all faced with life’s challenges that shape how we face our daily lives. How does cancer affect the mind of the person afflicted? How does cancer shape the lives of those who survive it? They are clearly not the same as when they started. They just missed death because they were forced to entertain its existence and question their mortality. They rose above the fear of loss and planted their feet firmly on the ground and walked the journey being asked of them. Many struggled, many questioned. In this journey, how do I fit in?

Besides wanting to be a garbage man I have often thought I could be a comedian. I only come alive in front of my patients. I feel the stage, the connectivity and the ability to find in them their strength, harnessing it to help them fight. How do I write to make me sound funny? To relive the moments that I connect with my patients, throwing jokes and fun statements to keep their morale up so that they can clear the hurdles that stand in their way. 

Today my patient cried and giggled. She was half way there. A treatment with a good outcome but very long nonetheless. When I walked into the room she sat hidden behind the curtain calling out that she was not crying. I could hear the choke in her voice. I pulled the curtain back and started my act.  I pulled the stool in the room and sat close reaching inside of me to find any word that would make her laugh. Comments on my beard that I was attempting to grow, on why she did not bring her cat with her and how her brother too tries to make her smile. Between tears and laughs we reformed the bond. I could see her pick herself up from falling down and saying ok I am ready for the chemotherapy. I thought when she survives this and moves on, will she remember how many laughs we had? Or would that be a forgotten memory? 

When I see my patients survive their disease, these laughs that helped them through tough times solidify a trust in me that make me believe I do make a difference. I hear it enough times and I share with you honestly and openly that I too forget. I forget their struggle, their fight.  Perhaps it is the joy of walking in and telling them that they are still disease free and that they are winners that makes me forget. I see in them a wisdom that was not there when they started, a strength that I know makes them face life differently and knowledge that they just beat cancer. 

Why would I want to remember how they struggled? When they are truly the winners.

Mo